Thinking About Starting a Nonprofit? Take my advice…Don’t.

We are swinging from one crisis to another in this country right now. No matter your political leanings, your take on the pandemic or the cries for racial justice across the country, people are passionate for change.

In the midst of our nation’s multiple problems, well-intentioned people want to change the world, and some think the best way is to start a nonprofit. I caution people to ask themselves some hard questions before they take on building an organization from the ground up.

1. Is there a nonprofit already out there doing this work? If so, you may be better off connecting w/them and fundraising for them rather than starting your own. Starting your own is a lot of work and has its own set of labor costs until you can afford to pay staff, plus across the entire industry it duplicates and replicates jobs. How many executive directors of organizations raising money for breast cancer research do we need in order to eradicate breast cancer? The answer should be one, possibly two, but right now it’s more like 20 or 30. That’s a whole lot of salary, staff and leadership duplicating work other nonprofits are doing. There are already 1.5 million registered nonprofits in the United States. What will one more organization do that others aren’t already doing?

2. Why are you considering starting a nonprofit? Is it to make a difference? Fill a need not currently being filled?  Do some soul-searching on why you’re considering starting a nonprofit and how much of your life and time you’re willing to dedicate to it. I can’t tell you the number of people who start out passionately throwing themselves into the task and burn out within a year, brought down by the grind of trying to organize and raise money.

3. Is your nonprofit for a short-term need or a long-term need? Once the nonprofit is up and running, is it sustainable? Short-term doesn’t need a nonprofit, it needs a fund. Long-term, see question number one.

If you are interested in a specific area of fundraising, then you can partner with a nonprofit and create a fund under their umbrella. A great example of this is the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund, which is managed by the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Zach tragically died of osteosarcoma at the tender age of 18 — you may be familiar with his song “Clouds” which he wrote and recorded. Children’s Cancer Research Fund raises money to research all pediatric cancers, but Zach’s family wanted to raise money specifically for the kind of cancer that took their son, so they created the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund. They raised more than $1.5 million in the years since his passing and the resulting research has made breakthroughs in the treatment of this type of cancer.

Because of their partnership, Zach’s family could focus on telling his story, on fundraising and raising awareness around the need to research this rare disease. They did not have to recruit, train and work with a board, hire an executive director or fundraising director, or manage all of the operations of a nonprofit. Because of that, their son’s life truly made a difference in the treatment of osteosarcoma.

Ask yourself these three questions. And then if the answer is still yes, there are a lot of resources out there that can help you. Throw me a line and I can connect you with those in your area.

Business is Business, but People are People

Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with a former co-worker and good friend, LeAnn. She and I met 25 years ago when she became the fourth person hired at the then-fledging ParadyszMatera office in Minneapolis.

We reminisced on some fun times — brainstorming sessions while standing around in a large open space between our offices, using golf putters to hit a beach ball from person to person as we talked through client challenges. That beach ball became our mascot for a while, finally dying on the end of a well-executed drive from the putter.

We also told stories on our fearless leader, Mike Cousineau. He founded the Minneapolis office and is a strategic, smart, quirky guy. We talked about how we all had to take turns making the coffee in the morning and according to Mike, no one made it strong enough for him. When it was finally strong enough for him, none of the rest of us could drink it. Finally he started buying his coffee from Dunn Bros. and bringing it in every morning and the rest of us made the coffee the strength we could tolerate.

He then developed the habit of leaving those Dunn Bros. coffee cups around his office, to the point that his desk and table were littered with dozens of slowly disintegrating paper cups in various stages of growing mold. With no cleaning staff and no one else willing to touch his office, he would finally go through it once a month and dump them all in the garbage. He called it his “great experiment.” We joked about the strains of mold that he may have accidentally created in his “experiement.”

Mike was passionate about business — hungry to grow, focused on the bottom line, always the first one in the office. But he also understood that people were people. There was no one more compassionate and caring than Mike. In typical Mike manner, he found ways to ensure that his people grew as professionals and human beings.

I recall struggling one time with a project he had assigned to give me. I wrestled with it for a while in silence at my desk, not understanding exactly what it was I was supposed to be producing or where to start. He could sense my frustration and stopped by to see how it was coming. I told him it wasn’t, I was terribly confused and struggling. He then told me something that followed me for the rest of my career.

“Jenny, you are the smartest person I know. If you can’t figure it out, then you don’t have all the information and need to ask more questions.”

As I retold this story, my co-worker and I both laughed about the fact that he told everyone they were the “smartest person he knew.” He was diligent about surrounding himself with people who had different skills than he, different strengths than his to build a comprehensive team that — together — could do more than any one individual could accomplish. Perhaps to him they were all the “smartest people he knew,” just in areas different from where he was steeped in knowledge.

From that day on, I never doubted myself when a situation was unclear.

I would go farther in life by asking to learn, than pretending to know everything.

This was an incredibly helpful thing to learn as a young adult, and I applied it professionally and personally. I am so grateful to have had Mike in my career, guiding the way.

We worked together happily this crazy group of four, tethered by a long, 254MB modem cable to the main New York office which we interfaced with daily, but seemed unrelated to our culture. About a year later we merged with another company and grew from an office of four to 30. The days of hitting a beach ball around the office were gone, but the teamwork and compassion were not.

LeAnn and I both agreed it was mean to talk about Mike so much without him there to defend himself, so we invited him to the next get-together. It was hilarious as expected and filled with small gems of wisdom packaged as stories. Sometimes business goes beyond business and becomes friendships. What a gift.

Destruction by Database

My very first job out of college was at an agency that called itself a “database marketing” firm. They didn’t market databases; they used data to make informed marketing decisions. I had the glamorous job of working in the Response Center, answering inbound telemarketing calls and entering direct mail leads generated by the smart marketing that had been executed for their clients.

I never got far from data the rest of my career. From analyzing client direct response results to understanding how a nonprofit was capturing data so I could later request it, using data has always been a part of my job. I’ve seen data managed with kid gloves, every piece of information carefully captured, updated and reported as it comes in. I’ve also seen great measures of data be shredded rather than entered into the database, thousands of potential relationships rolled out the door in a bin after years of lingering in a drawer.

From all of this, I have one piece of advice for nonprofits, and you can quote me on this:

Invest in your database.

— Jenny Floria

Pretend you just bought a new car. Congratulations! You have a car! It runs smoothly, it’s quiet, it is awesome. But you don’t change the oil, put air in the tires, or do anything to maintain the car. It gets louder and louder over time, the ride gets bumpier and, well, in no time at all you’ve got a clunker on your hands.

The same thing happens when you don’t regularly invest in your database. Here are some of the ways in which I’ve seen nonprofits pay in the long run for not investing in their databases.

Nonprofit A purchases a highly-recommended and relatively expensive database. The person put in charge of the database often ignores the upgrades the software company recommends installing, figuring the updates aren’t worth the time or money. Before they know it 10 years have passed and the database doesn’t capture more than two phone numbers per household (because who’s got more numbers besides “work” and “home?”). They re-invest in a new database and move the data, losing much of it in the conversion as the fields were not properly mapped since the old database was so antiquated.

Nonprofit B uses a free database. This meets their needs for the first few years when they’ve only got a couple of hundred donors. They grow quickly and need to raise big money for their expansion. They realize they don’t have current addresses on many of their founding donors, they have phone numbers captured in one of four different fields and can’t do any wealth screening because their data can’t be matched due to its inconsistencies. They have to pause their campaign to make an investment in a database, something they should have done earlier.

Outside of the initial purchase and licensing expenses, how should nonprofits be investing in their databases?

  • Put the right people in charge of the database. Give the job to a professional who knows the ins and outs of databases and what is needed to keep them running effectively.
  • Treat the data like your nonprofit depends on it…because it does. No matter how insignificant it may seem, every piece of information could be a treasure. Evaluate every source and make sure your database has the ability to capture it, even if you choose not to.
  • Update update update. Unless the initial purchase decision was completely disastrous, it is nearly always more effective to continue working with your current database than move to a new one. Budgets have been blown, deadlines extended, good employees resigned, and potential revenue left on the table in the midst of database conversions.
  • Train people on how to use the database. This includes training your database manager, who should stay up-to-date on the latest developments. When updates occur, make sure users are aware and know how to use the new features.
  • Have consistent data capture. Where data is stored and how it is used should not change every time a staff member walks in the door. Have written documentation of when, where and how data is captured so that it continues to flow regardless of who is working at the nonprofit.

Data is at the heart of your business. You want your major gift officers to reach donors at the right phone number, your appeals to reach people at their current address, and to understand the relationship between donors and your organization. Make these investments in your database for your team to succeed.

Brand-Forward ≠ Fundraising Writing

Who’s doing the writing, a person or an organization?

In my career, I have seen and personally experienced a tug-of-war between marketing and development departments. It’s not because marketing people are mean or bad at their jobs, they are some of the smartest people I know. It may be familiar to you, here’s how it goes:

The development team asks the marketing team to write a fundraising letter for them. The marketing team produces a great piece that hits on all the high points they’ve been trained to write about: how many lives they’ve impacted, how what the organization does is better/faster/more efficient (pick your unique selling proposition) than other organizations, how much money people give to them, and appropriately use of their name in at least four mentions. Yeay us!

The piece is mailed and surprisingly, does not raise as much money as was hoped. Everyone scratches their heads and commits to doing better next time.

What happened?

Here’s the truth about brand-forward communication: Donors. Don’t. Care.

What do donors care about?

What organizations have done with the money they’ve already given. Why the nonprofits still need donors’ support. How donating to the organization is changing the world.

Here’s the difference, in a real-world example.

I was asked to help a client write a fundraising piece that would be mailed to current donors. As a starting point, I was given the piece that was mailed the previous year, mostly for the facts and figures. This is a human services organization that employs people with disabilities.

This was the original opening sentence: “Our mission has never been as important as it is now. Nationwide, only one-third of working-age people with disabilities are employed.”

Who have we talked about so far? The organization first and the people we want to help, in general.

The letter went on to quote many facts and figures, backed up by the Department of Labor, on the number of people with disabilities who are unemployed, and asks for a donation because this organization employees people with disabilities. Reading this, I’m still not sure why this organization needs my donation to hire employees.

Instead, let’s try this:

“I am writing to you because there are people right here in our community who cannot  find meaningful work, and you have the power to help them.”

Wait, me? People who live by me need my help?

The letter goes on to tell the story of one particular person who found himself out-of-work after a health crisis, and how the organization helped him find meaningful work again after two years of being unemployed. It talks about how the company provides special accommodations and training to people with disabilities so they can be successful not only at work, but also in life. The employee gushes about how grateful he is to be able to work again and provide for himself.

Now which letter would convince you to make a donation, the one filled with facts and figures, or the one about an individual whose life was changed due to this organization’s work?

The result?

More money raised, but, more importantly, more donors chose to give again to support the mission. Unless nonprofits can retain the donors they already have, they will find themselves on a sinking ship of ever shrinking donors and revenues. But that’s a post for another day.

Point is, there is a crossroads between brand-forward and fundraising communications and many nonprofits have a hard time finding that intersection. Keep at it, keep searching for that crossroad. If you need help, call me. 🙂

Coming Soon!

When I was little girl, my life’s dream was to be a world-famous author. I imagined myself living in the woods somewhere, enjoying my many dogs, spending beautiful days in thoughtful reflection, scribbling down ideas and following through with the most brilliant writing anyone has ever read. My books would FLY off bookshelves, money would roll in I would have no worries, and would be able to spend my time however I wished.

My vision did not turn out exactly the way I had imagined. (Me? Live in the woods? You’ve met me, right?) But…I do write and people read it. I know they do because my writing raises money for nonprofits. I love seeing passages I’ve written on clients’ websites, in email or direct mail pieces. Even though my name isn’t associated with those pieces, I know I created them and I get a little spark of excitement every time I read them.

Then my friend Andrew Olsen presented me with the opportunity to actually *be* an author. I’m contributing a single chapter, but it’s enough!

In about 45 days the book “101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make” will be published. Be sure to read my chapter on how you need to dig into data to make smart fundraising decisions — the devil truly is in the details!

After you read it, you will find me in my mountainside retreat in the woods. With my dogs.

Winnable Deal

woman on smartphone

I like to amuse myself with word games or card games on my phone. Whether I’m waiting for an appointment or sitting at the car dealership, I will spend a few moments trying to win a hand of solitaire.

I recently downloaded an app that has many kinds of solitaire, including one called “Spider.” I’d never played this kind of solitaire before — after reading the rules of play and failing miserably at a few hands, the chase was on. I just HAD to figure out how to win at this thing.

I played hand after hand with no success, losing time and again, but each time getting a little closer to victory. Each time I learned a little about strategies I had tried that worked and those that didn’t. Now I win about a quarter of the games I play, often enough to keep me playing.

One day, while waiting for the game to load, I noticed a checkbox on the game set-up:

IMG_0454 edit

Winnable deal.

It was turned on, meaning that every hand that I had been dealt was a winnable hand. Every. Single. One. But I was only winning about 25% of the time.

If every hand was a winnable deal, what was preventing me from winning? I could restart every game and keep trying until I won each deal before moving on to a new deal. Why wasn’t I winning 100% of the time?

  1. Tedium. Playing the same set of cards over and over again is not the most interesting thing to do. Many of the moves are always the same with no options for alternatives, so for much of the game I’m doing exactly what I’ve done before.
  2. Not remembering what I’d done before. When given options, I couldn’t remember if I had tried the move in the previous hand or not. Was I repeating exactly the same game as before, and would I have the same outcome? I had no idea.
  3. Not willing to put in the time. I’ve ended more than one game when my meeting began, I was interrupted, or otherwise had to stop playing. I did not have time to keep trying new strategies to win a hand. (This IS a game for leisure, after all.)

I realized that these same issues that kept me from having a 100% winning streak are the same issues that plague many in our professional lives.

Tedium

During his career, my father spent many years at J.I. Case, which manufactured tractors and other machinery for the agricultural industry. While a general manager there, the company was going through a difficult time of slipping margins, poor quality control and labor issues. My dad worked hard through all of those challenges and was a key factor in the company’s turnaround.

He told stories of those days with fondness. Every day was a different battle, utterly unique from the day before. It was challenging and exciting, even the day that he tried to leave work and found that all four of his tires had been slashed, presumably by a disgruntled employee. Finally, the ship had been righted, labor demands appeased, and quality and margins began to increase. Now it was back to the tedium of managing day-to-day operations. He left the company shortly after, because, he said, “It was boring.” Some years later Case merged with International Harvester; I suspect he would have found that transition time to be fascinating to work through had he chosen to stay.

Not Remembering What Was Done Before

When I left my agency job to work for a nonprofit, I was fortunate enough to get in touch with the person who had held the job before me, even though he had already moved on from the organization. During my first week at the new job, he and I had coffee and I learned so much about what he had done to make the annual giving program a success. He had left careful documentation (in random folders, perhaps, but the documentation existed), of previous testing that had been done and its results.

Thanks to him and to this documentation, I did not need to make the same mistakes again. Despite the change in personnel, I was able to keep moving the program forward, increasing the number of donors and revenues, and also build a strategy for a grateful patient program.

Five years later when I left, I wrote a 7-page document for my future replacement, outlining previously tested strategies, where to find documentation, the direction of the program and challenges to be addressed moving forward. Unfortunately the organization decided not to replace my position until months after my departure, and much of the documentation did not survive the other changes in leadership that were happening at the same time. Now that they’ve got new personnel in place, they are re-tracing steps previously taken to prove to new leadership that the program that had been put in place was indeed effective before they can further advance.

Not Willing to Put In the Time

In my agency days we hired a lot of people right out of college or who only had one or two year’s experience. We were a growing company with a lot of entry-level positions.

For a time, we went through countless recent graduates; our turnover rate for entry-level positions was awful. We would post the position, carefully described the job through the interview process, hire someone in, and this person would begin work. Being an entry-level position, the work was…well, tedious. Detailed. Repetitive and sometimes frustrating. Invariably, within 3 to 6 months, our new hire would ask when he or she would get promoted out of the position.

We were a growing company, but not growing so quickly as to need to promote within the year every single person who started with us. We would re-direct to the job at hand: there were nuances to be learned, improvements to be made, more to do in the current position than simply moving past it.

For a time, the majority of our entry-level people walked back out the door about a year after they’d walked in. The few who stuck it out did indeed get recognition and promotions to move on to the next level. Those who were willing to put in the time were rewarded.

I think of conversations I’ve had with people over the course of collective careers, and the decisions I and others have made throughout our lives. A job that was tedious, a boss who was weak, a co-worker who made work miserable, who forced our hand to make a decision to either stay or ride it out. Was that a “winning” decision? What would have happened had different decisions been made?

What is keeping you from winning your winnable deal?

 

Event(ful) Expectations

Recently my husband and I saw Diana Krall in concert. She is a jazz songstress and pianist with a rich, soothing voice. The tickets were about what I’d expect to pay to see her — not too expensive but not cheap.

Before the concert we checked to see how long the show would be so our children would know when to expect us home. The website said 75 to 90 minutes with no intermission.

We enjoyed the show very much and the couple next to us seemed to be too, with toes tapping and exuberant applause. And about 75 minutes in, Diana and the musicians took their bows.

I heard the gentleman next to me whisper to his partner, “Is this intermission?” When he learned that no, this was the end of the show, he got almost belligerent. “Are you kidding, that’s it? I expected it to be longer, we paid good money for these tickets.” The musicians performed two encore songs and exited the stage to a standing ovation, while the person next to us grumbled about the show’s length.

As we drove home, I mentioned to my husband the gentleman’s reaction. Two different couples saw the same concert and probably paid similar dollars for our tickets. Yet one couple came away disappointed while we had the perfect evening.

What was the difference? Our expectation of the show.

I see this happen over and over with nonprofit events. Most nonprofits rely on events to support their mission, for fundraising, stewarding major donors or raising awareness. If not careful, events can become an expectation of a nonprofit, something that must be held every year without being tethered to mission or fundraising.

Many times events flounder and are scrutinized by board members, executive directors or others, and the question often comes up, “Was this event successful?”

My response to that question is always, “What is the measure of success?”

Was the goal of the event to attract new people to the mission? If so, was a goal set and do we know how many new people attended? (The answer to the latter question is surprisingly often “no.”)

Was the goal to raise money? If so, was a goal set and met while managing expenses?

NP social media influence cartoon
Credit to RobCottingham.com 

Surprisingly, many events don’t have set goals outside of a revenue goal, or, if they do, those goals were not shared with stakeholders and board members, who later feel the need to question the use of valuable dollars and resources.

Many nonprofits are pushed into doing events that they have neither the staff time nor resources to execute by a well-meaning board member who thinks that the organization “needs” an event. The staff expends hours upon hours doing “other duties as assigned,” since this event was not originally budgeted, while necessary fundraising work is put on hold.

If this sounds familiar, or if you are evaluating the role events play in your organization, here are some tools to help prevent uncomfortable post-event meetings.

  1. Put together a project brief on the event. Some of the things this brief needs to cover include the goal(s) of the event, expected cost, and metrics by which success will be measured. Goals can include attracting new donors, revenue raised, number of attendees, earned media or other values. Make sure you’re prepared to measure these metrics before you get too far into planning.
  2. Share this brief with board members, staff, and other stakeholders. Gather feedback and if necessary, adjust the goals or expectations.
  3. Get buy-in from key stakeholders on the final plan. You may not get 100% of your board behind it, but if you get the key backers who understand the purpose of the event, they can sway others.
  4. As the event is taking shape, you may choose to move away from some of the goals. For example, you may have an opportunity to get a really dynamic speaker but need to push your expenses to make it happen. As the decisions occur, keep the board and stakeholders in the loop. You are not asking their permission; you are managing their expectations so that after the event they aren’t surprised by the end result.
  5. After the event, make sure you do a wrap-up report re-iterating the original goals, revised goals and actual metrics.
  6. As a part of this wrap-up, itemize key learnings from this year’s event. Maybe that expensive speaker didn’t really pan out, or perhaps scrapping the paper invitation was cost-effective and didn’t affect attendance. That list should become the starting point for that event the following year, which brings me to…
  7. Have the discussion post-event whether the event should take place the following year. Did it meet its goals? Do those goals advance the organization’s needs? Just because an event occurs annually doesn’t mean it should.

Make sure you manage expectations while putting events to work for you. We enjoyed our evening of Diana Krall and her band very much and would recommend seeing her to anyone else who enjoys her music. The couple next to us? Probably not so much.

 

Being Genuine

TY noteThis past summer the father of a good high school friend of mine passed away. He spent the last few days of his life in hospice, where he and his family received comfort and care. He passed peacefully, and the family asked that memorials be given to the hospice home in his memory.

Shortly after his passing and my donation to the hospice, I received a brief and thoughtful receipt from the hospice home, recognizing my memorial gift and explaining their mission briefly. I filed the tax receipt and thought that was the end of that.

Months later, I received a phone call from the hospice home. The woman on the phone simply thanked me for my generous gift; no solicitation for a second gift, just a thank you. It seemed odd to me to receive the call months after I had made my gift.

A few days later, I received their year-end appeal in the mail, and it all made sense then. I felt like the timing of the call was to butter me up for their year-end appeal. Had I received the phone call a few weeks after I’d made the gift, it would have felt more genuine.

I suspect that hospices, just like hospitals, have a challenging fundraising model, with a significant percentage of donors making one-time gifts in memory of a loved one and then never giving again. Turning those first-time donors into long-term committed donors is their biggest challenge and the key to their fundraising success.

A well-timed stewardship call to each first-time donor would be helpful to convert more one-time donors into committed donors. Saving up all the calls and then making them once, in advance of an appeal, feels disingenuous and almost manipulative.

I was disappointed by the way this small hospice, which is filling a great need in their community, handled this relationship. It would not take any more time or money to instead make those thank you calls in a more timely basis, and would make all the difference in how donors feel about supporting their mission.

Next post, I’ll tell you about a hospital that I think did an amazing job after receiving a memorial gift.

Are We Expecting Less from our Donors?

BFG screen captureI’m in the middle of reading “The War for Fundraising Talent” by Jason Lewis. The book is about more than just attracting and retaining talented fundraising professionals, it’s about how nonprofits are addicted to “cheap” money, to chasing a fundraising ratio and not creating deep relationships with their donors, which leads to fundraising talent looking for opportunity elsewhere.

This book was on my mind as I opened multiple emails from many organizations on March 1st announcing their participation in “Brackets for Good.” BFG is a 501c3 organization based in Indiana, whose mission is to “activate new donors and increase awareness for other nonprofit organizations through competitive, online fundraising.”

MN brackets

The competition looks like any bracket you may see this time of year, except that instead of college basketball teams they pit nonprofits against each other. Each week, whichever nonprofits raised the most money online goes on to the next week’s bracket.

This sounds good, right? Attract new donors, raise awareness, all using a smooth, online marketing machine that none of these nonprofits had to pay for.  It’s a win-win, even if you lose.

Yet, if the goal is to attract new donors, then why did I receive emails from the 4 or 5 organizations I currently support, asking me to get involved in Brackets for Good?

If I were to participate in this competition on a chosen charity’s behalf, I need to see where they’re at in the brackets and give just enough each week to make sure they advance to the next bracket. If I typically give a $100 donation to a nonprofit, I need to strategically choose when and how much of that $100 I’m going to give each week.

As a donor, helping a nonprofit move ahead in the brackets is not much of an incentive to give more than the $100 that they would’ve gotten anyways. Unlike Giving Tuesday or Give to the Max Day in Minnesota, nonprofits who move on are not eligible for additional grant or matching money.

Are many donors actually incentivized to give more by these contests? I would rather give more by hearing from the organization on what their goals are and why they need more, then I would feel like my gift was really doing good. Just helping them move ahead in a bracket isn’t enough of an incentive for me to give more, maybe it’s just me.

So now I’ve divvied up a single $100 gift into small amounts, trickled over several weeks, and will feel like I did my part to support a nonprofit.

According to Jason’s book, this is exactly the kind of shallow relationship nonprofits are developing with donors, what he calls “arms-reach fundraising.” Are online competitions and giving days helping or hurting fundraising in the U.S.?

Direct Mail vs Junk Mail, Part II

Earlier I wrote about a piece of unsolicited advertising I had received in my mailbox (the technical definition of “direct mail”). I considered that piece to be “junk mail” — poorly targeted to people who have no use for the product.

The next day, I received a piece of direct mail.

This piece was significantly smaller, a 3.5″ x 5″ folded 4-color postcard, to be exact. Part of the outside messaging had been ink-jetted and smeared in the mailing process, not as pristine as the piece I had received the day before.

Even though it didn’t originally catch my eye in the mailbox, this is definitely an offer I will be acting on.Vista Print postcard.jpgIMG_9346.JPG

I recently opened my own business, which means I filed my business with the State of Minnesota. This company selected the names of new business owners and offers them a deal to get business cards printed. They bulk-printed the creative to get a volume discount and then ink-jetted on the offer deadline, promo code and address before mailing.

I have to believe they’ve got a warehouse of thousands of these cards waiting to get mailed. If they were even smarter (which is absolutely possible), they performed a gender identification on the list of business owners and for the men inserted a sample business card featuring a man’s name and masculine colors.

They wisely chose their audience — new business owners — and offered them a service they believe they could use, business cards.

Brilliant.

The creative may not be a glossy, over-sized “hey look at me” piece, but they will be getting my order because they got two critical pieces right: audience selection and timing.

Imagine how these pieces would have been received if they had been delivered at different times: the offer for window replacements when we filed a permit for a remodel would have been direct mail, and the offer for business cards to a non-business owner would have been junk mail.

Nonprofits should be asking themselves if they asking donors to give when donors  are looking to contribute, or when nonprofits need to raise money? Are you sending direct mail or junk mail? The answer is not in a new snazzy envelope, great graphics or a well-written letter, it’s in the audience selection and timing.