The free ask string book

I had promised to get my free ask string book out as soon as humanly possible.  That moment is now; you can download it here.  I appreciate your patience and your support.

Also, I’ll be doing a Webinar about ask strings next week on Wednesday, September 14th at noon Eastern.  You can sign up for it here, along with a couple other good ones.  It also is free — I may have gone over to the for-profit world, but I haven’t yet figured out charging for stuff.

Please let me know any thoughts you have and thanks for reading!

The free ask string book

My final regular Direct to Donor blog post

This will be my final regular daily blog post. After almost 14 years at MADD, an organization whose mission and people I love now and always, it’s time for my next adventure.

I will be joining the DonorVoice team on August 9.  Hopefully, you’ve seen a passion for 1) science, 2) nonprofits and 3) improving donor experiences on this blog.  At DonorVoice, I’m going to get to combine all of these, helping nonprofits listen to donors and (shockingly) act on them to decrease donor bleed, along with using the latest behavioral science research to improve the ways we ask.  So I’m very excited.

While I’m not blogging here, I’ll be blogging, Webcast-ing, white-papering, and other made-up verbs on the DonorVoice platform. Hope to see you there and hope I can continue to create things of value for you. And I’m going to keep this site up so you can still have access to old pieces and the occasional personal post.

My final regular Direct to Donor blog post

The mindset shift in online versus offline costs

Almost everything you pay for in online direct marketing is a fixed cost.  You need to buy an email platform, an online database, an advocacy platform, donation management, a content management system, etc.  Once you have these things, they scale relatively well with few costs.  Sure, there may be tiered pricing for a lot of things, but usually not many tiers.

Almost everything you pay for in offline direct marketing is a marginal cost.  If you want to send one more mailer, you have to pay for the additional paper, printing, postage, envelope, etc.  Very few own their own printing presses; you pay someone a marginal cost to absorb that fixed cost.  

This leads to vastly different outlooks on life for online and offline marketers, each with its own flaw.  An online marketer (especially from five years ago or so) is comfortable to pray and spray, counting on multiple emails to to sway where quality of email does not.  Similarly, if ads are CPC or CPA (go here for a glossary if these terms are new), you can put out bad ads and wait for volume to save you.  Your costs were up front.

These ignore the hidden marginal costs of online: time and attention.  Time is the human resources you are putting into delivering and sending messages, which do go up with the number of different messages that are going out.  But more importantly, the attention of your audience is a finite resource.  Every time you deliver a message of valid and important to that person, you fill up that resource.  Every time you deliver an irrelevant message, you draw from that well — until there’s nothing left.

A recent DMA blog post talked about how ad blocking is a bad choice because it is a nuclear option, shutting down all ad communication with a consumer that is really trying to shut down bad ads.  I agree with the sentiment, but think the fault for that lies not with consumers choosing ad blocking or the ad blockers themselves, but in the advertisers that favor bulk over connection and interruption over permission.


On the flip side, offline direct marketers have been trained to the net.  Because there is a marginal cost to a piece, that cost must be covered by marginal revenue.  This leads to equal and opposite mistakes:

  • Overcommunication to donors with pieces that have positive net, never looking at the irritation caused or the declining revenues per piece until you have 20 pieces netting $.05 per when you could have four pieces netting $.50 per.
  • Underinvestment in strategies that are temporarily net negative.  This can be:
    • Acquisition, which can pay for itself over time
    • Lapsed reactivation – ditto
    • Cultivation communications.  Research shows that you can reduce churn significantly by asking about someone’s donor experience. Will this have upfront costs?  Yes.  But the cost will be more in the long term to have to reacquire those donors or get new ones to replace those to leave.

In short, offline and online need to learn from and appreciate the differences in their cost structures.  But they shouldn’t be bound by these structures to inevitable, unenviable fates.

The mindset shift in online versus offline costs

My new book

This is apropos of absolutely nothing in the nonprofit direct marketing world and I will have a normal post later today.  However, I did want to let you know that:

  1. My first novel has been published online.  It’s called Underling, and it’s a dark workplace comedy, where the workplace happens to be an evil mastermind’s lair.  Very much an homage to a certain British secret agent who will remain unnamed for copyright reasons.  It’s $2.99, because I can’t make it any cheaper yet. Mostly, I want to put it out into the world and see if people like it as much as I liked writing it.  So, please take a look here.
  2. In honor of the first novel being launched, I have made my other two books free of charge on Amazon through Saturday the 31st.  They are:

    Did I mention they are free for download?

  3. Finally, I’m making the prologue of the new book available below, so you can tell if it’s your particular cup of tea.


It was considered an honor to be able to guard this particular room on this particular day. Benny knew it was really a great danger. He was senior enough to be competent, but not important enough that it would be a loss to kill him if things went wrong. That said, death might be a blessed respite from this management consultant droning his presentation with an unceasing march of complex, unnecessarily colorful charts. There is a reason no known language has a common simile “as beautiful as a pie chart.”

“On our SWOT analysis, we’d looked at our guards as an area of weak-ness.” The consultant said the last word slowly, as if he was explaining to a group of kindergarteners that it meant “things you aren’t good at.” “Let’s mind-scape some ways to turn this weak-ness into an op-por-tun-i-ty,” gesturing from the upper right to lower left quadrant of his slide.

The consultant wasn’t really sure if mindscape was a word and, if so, if it was a verb, but he’d found that if he said it instead of “brainstorm” or, even worse, “think about,” while wearing an expensive suit and glasses he didn’t need, he could increase his fees. This gig was certainly a bit unusual, in that he arrived at location blindfolded. And he didn’t quite know why he was being paid to deliver this presentation to this motley collection of nerds, knuckle-draggers, and freaks, rather than just talking with the big boss. He did know he was being paid handsomely for the gig, half up front, half after completion.

Dr. Frederick von Schlaukopf thrust his hand into the air, lifting out of his seat. Mike, Benny’s boss, leaned over to Victor and whispered “Chill, Hermione.” Victor chuckled.

But the consultant was happy to have audience participation and gestured to invite comment. Frederick straightened and permitted himself an almost smile. “I belief ve have overlooked ze potential for ze creation of supah genome soldiers zru ze use of ze nanobots.”

Mike Richards rose to his feet. When it looked like he was done rising, he rose another few inches. Then he brought his shoulders back to look even wider than before, his gray T-shirt on the verge of surrender to the muscles of this former boxer. He growled “We’ve been over this. You keep your needles away from my men, Freddy.” The target of these words shrunk back a bit.

Benny felt a warm wave of affection wash over him for Iron Mike. He’d seen what had happened to test subjects in the past. Even for this place, the German was a bit off.

Winston, the new head of human resources, jumped in with a query about whether they could use robot guards. Kevin, the IT whiz kid, snorted dismissively and said “Costa Rica.” Everyone except Winston, the guards, and the consultant acted as that closed the matter. Wei Fung leaned over to Winston and started to explain in a whisper.

The consultant realized that he hadn’t spoken for at least a minute and jumped back in. “I appreciate all of the outside-of-the-box” (here, he used his two forefingers to trace and illustrate the concept of “box”) “thinking, but I was thinking more about empowering the guards and allowing them more initiative.”

Mike showed Victor a drawing he’d done on his scratch pad of the consultant in considerable pain wrapped in the clutches of a giant snake. Victor snorted a laugh and passed his pad over. His drawing was a bit more rudimentary — having two mechanical arms impedes fine motor control — but it appeared he had drawn the consultant being thrown from a helicopter. Benny saw the exchange and bit his lip to prevent some un-guard-like laughter.

Cesar Aguilar, second in command over the guards, asked the question that the consultant was dying to be asked: “What do you mean… empowerment?”

“Well,” the consultant said, steepling his hands, “Zen Master Suzuki Roshi once said that to control your cow, you need to give it a bigger pasture.” He was proud of that quote, and it showed as he puffed up. He’d found it on a Web site of quotes about empowerment. He had even Googled to make sure that Suzuki Roshi wasn’t really a model of car. That, he felt, was dedication to the craft. “That’s the idea behind empowerment. You allow decision-making at the lowest possible level and, at your strategic level, you set goals, not dictates. That gets you to what I like to call The Empowerment Enclave.”

The SWOT slide zoomed out, rotated, and came back with a slide that had rainbow-colored concentric circles. Arrows ringed the circle interspersed with words like “Trust,” “Values”, and, of course, “Innovation.” The slide duly noted that The Empowerment Enclave was a trademarked phrase, with its own logo.

“In my analysis, these guards have been used as… um…”

Cesar jumped in. “Meat shields? Drones? Mouth-breathing lackeys?”

The consultant reddened a bit (as did Benny, but no one noticed him). “Drones is probably an accurate term for it. In essence, they have not been used to their full potential. For example, I’ve identified a lack of proper safety protocols…”

A guard was walking briskly down the hallway, speaking down into his collar mic. Victor came around the corner, followed by Benny and another guard. Victor and the guard walking against him collided at speed. The guard flew back over the edge of a gantry where any reasonable planner would have put a railing. There was none. The guard fell into the area where R&D was testing their giant subterranean drill. Benny looked over the edge to see what had happened.

The mess was serving spaghetti for dinner that night. Benny didn’t give the meal a second look or a first bite.

“Secondly, while I understand the need for military efficiency, the desire to control the minute details of their lives seems out of step with maximum effectiveness.” Benny agreed. Not that he wanted to grow facial hair, but a total ban seemed odd.

“C, guards have no input on the organizational decision making. You need to take your organizational pyramid (the next slide looked like the pyramid slide that is in every consultant’s presentation, from nonprofit donations to needs taxonomies to healthy eating) and turn it upside down. You work for the guards. What do they need from you to succeed?”

Just then, a green light that had been on over the consultant’s head turned to red. Z had been listening. Of course he’d been listening.

Cesar jumped to his feet, his face full of scars glinting in the change of light. “Thank you, sir, for a fine presentation. Let’s all give him a hand,” he said, with the hint of a smirk aimed at Victor. Victor gave him a death stare back. The audience, except the guards, who refrained from muscle movement, smattered applause. “We know your time is valuable, so we need to get you to your boat.”

The consultant briefly protested that he hadn’t even gotten to his section on social media recommendations.

Victor stood and said “Come.” The consultant shrunk an inch and complied. This man with the metaphorical iron jaw and literal iron arms scared him deeply. Victor ushered the consultant roughly through the door while ducking to avoid the top of the door frame. There was a rumor that the base was supposed to have eight-foot doors in all locations, but a builder used standard frames. This was supposedly to Victor’s great regret, who then made it the great regret of the builder.

Cesar, Benny, and the other guard (Vassili, Benny’s bunkmate) followed behind. Cesar threw an arm covered in tattoos over the consultant’s shoulder and talked like a hyperactive tour guide, pointing vaguely to the galley and the restrooms (“it’s called the head here!”) and the nuclear reactor and the server room as they sped-walked by.

They piled into an elevator, which ascended slowly while playing an orchestral version of “Walk This Way.” The elevator emptied out onto a short hallway, leading to a harbor. Cesar gestured the consultant onto a boat and traveled out about 100 feet. Then, before the consultant could protest, he was heaved effortlessly by Victor’s bionic limbs into the water.

The thoughts from the consultant were rather chaotic after that, along the lines of:

So that’s why I didn’t have to wear a blindfold it’s a giant glacier or is it an iceberg which is it when they break off iceberg like Titanic but it’s a ship too must swim back maybe a joke very cold clothes wet should take off clothes can’t swim have to stay above (gasp) so very cold shoes heavy clothes (gasp) heavy climb iceberg ship slick (gasp) must stay up must swim can’t swim (gasp) no arms legs (gasp) shit.

Cesar turned the boat around and returned to the harbor inside the tip of the ersatz iceberg. He cracked a grin and said “Glad we put him on ice!” Victor stared at him, then turned and lumbered off. Cesar backhanded Benny’s chest and said “On ice! Oh, I kill me!” and wandered off.

Not for the first time, and not for the last time, Benny wondered what he’d done to deserve this. He knew his sins, knew their variety, scope, and number. Some of them woke him up at night; others got laughs when he told them in the mess hall. But what do you do in your life to deserve to be an underling on Commodore Zubrosky’s fake iceberg-base?

Thanks and you can buy the full thing here for $2.99.

I’ll be back to the regular stuff later today.

My new book

Hello world. Here’s why I’m writing…

I started this site to have a conversation about direct marketing for nonprofits. There are precious few of us who do this as a vocation and avocation and yet we often share only at conferences. Even then, it became death by PowerPoint with your notes making little sense when you get back to your desk.

Additionally, there are great and passionate advocates for our industry – many of whom I will link to and praise when possible – but few who start at the nuts and bolts level, explaining terms as they go. This will be an attempt to do so.

My goal is to structure this like the New York Times crossword – Mondays will be the simplest and they will get to progressively more complex content throughout the week. And I’ll try to make it hew to a theme for each week.

If you want more information on any topic, let me know in the comments, or you can email me here. I want to hear what would be helpful for you. Most of these topics are fractal-ish; in working on the first post on whether you need a direct marketing program, I mention online acquisition, which can bring up Google Grants, which can bring up keyword selection, which can get to negative keywords, and so on. I want to get as general or as specific as you want.

If you want to keep abreast of these, you can sign up for a weekly digest of these posts at the right. And I’ll try to keep some email only content aside just for subscribers.

What’s the business model for this? Don’t know yet if there will be any business model. Mostly, I want to help increase your knowledge and my own. Happy reading and please let me know your thoughts!

Hello world. Here’s why I’m writing…