Offer up! Why offer is everything.

Those of us who have been in fundraising for a while — and maybe have some gray hair — know about the 40-40-20 principle.

If you’ve never heard of it, the idea is that your success with any fundraising campaign can be attributed to three key elements in specific amounts:

— 40% to your audience (how accurately you target qualified donors or prospects)

— 40% to your offer (how compelling, appealing, relevant it is)

— 20% to your creative (how well you execute copy, design, format, etc.)

Marketing pros have debated this theory for decades. Some say it’s gospel. Others say it’s bunk. Still others say the “new digital marketing paradigm” has rendered it mostly irrelevant. Meanwhile, creatives, like your humble blogger, feel deep offense at being called “20-percenters.”

The veterans say — only somewhat humorously — that you can take a strong offer, print it on a tattered 3 x 5 card, mail it to the wrong people, and get somebody to respond. But present a truly lame offer in even the slickest mail package or digital effort, then deliver it to all the right people, and you just might get bupkis.

Why your offer is everything

No matter where you come down, I believe you can rightly argue that there’s a big ole nugget of truth here: Your offer is absolutely critical. Some, including me, say offer is king.

Here’s why…

At the most fundamental level, a fundraising offer is a value exchange: the donor’s gift in trade for a promised outcome. A rumbling stomach filled. A broken life transformed. The Good News proclaimed. That’s what donors want. And more important, it’s what they’ll give up their hard-earned coin for.

For example, a rescue mission might say: “Every $1.99 you give now will share a meal and care at the ABC Mission.” (And notice I didn’t say, “Every $1.99 you give now will enable us to share…” The essence of donor-focused fundraising is taking your organization out of the equation and giving the donor credit, through God’s leading, for the good work.)

But we know there’s more to it than that. When donors act on an attractive offer — when they respond to your call to action — they want to see their all-important, personal, emotion-laden charitable giving goals met. They expect, as one fundraiser so brilliantly put it, to have you to bless them with purpose and meaning in return.

If that is what’s at stake, then you absolutely cannot do anything less than present a clear, highly beneficial — to the donor! — proposition with the unmistakable ring of truth.

So why do we see so many weak, irrelevant, wrongly targeted, threadbare fundraising offers out there?

I believe it’s because, somehow, we’ve forgotten how important they are. We’ve lost sight of this crucial fundraising imperative: if you want to improve your fundraising results, then the first place to start is by improving your offer.

8 questions for a good offer

One of my Masterworks colleagues, a creative vet with decades of experience, suggests that you ask 8 questions about your offer before moving forward. Answer honestly, as if YOU are the donor:

  1. Why are you writing me today? 
  2. What do I get out of it?
  3. Why should I care?
  4. How are you solving the problem or leveraging the opportunity?
  5. What do you want me to do?
  6. Is it a good deal?
  7. Why should I do it now?
  8. Does this all really make sense?

As you can see, offer development can be hard work. It requires a clear understanding of what your donors want, need, and expect from you. What’s more, it demands ongoing testing, innovation, and financial investment. But your time, effort, and expense will be worth it.

So let me encourage you to take a look at your offers. Make it a priority to work on refining existing offers, innovating new ones, and testing. And before you test one more envelope, one more subject line, one more direct mail format, one more email approach, consider what a new, highly appealing offer could do for your results. It’s too promising to ignore.