Young Professionals Coffee Talk – Allie Krumel and Chanelle Zak


Allie Krumel, Copywriter at M&C, recently sat down with her colleague and friend Chanelle Zak, Director of Communications & Community Engagement at Bishop Sullivan Center, to reflect on their first year as young professionals. Let’s eavesdrop on their conversation.

Allie: So to start off, tell us a little about why you chose to begin your career in the nonprofit world.

Chanelle: When I was navigating the first few years of college, I was looking for a major that would help me serve my community well, and somehow get paid while doing that. And I wasn’t definite on the exact position I wanted to be in every day. I didn’t have a passion for writing like you do, but I knew it could help me help others. I realized I was very people-focused, and that helped me define what I wanted my education to help me do. So with that, throughout school I started to identify the causes I was most passionate about. Then, when I got my job at Bishop Sullivan Center, I learned my role as Director of Communications & Community Engagement so I could serve in urban settings and work with low-income families.

Allie: That’s interesting. I feel like I came into the working world from a different angle, even though we ended up in similar roles. I was asking, “What sorts of writing jobs are out there? How do I find them?” So working in the nonprofit world was a way to follow that passion. So, can you tell me what you enjoy most about working at Bishop Sullivan Center?

Chanelle: Absolutely – my interest in working at Bishop Sullivan Center is rooted in understanding poverty. I want to eventually be able to make big, high-level decisions that could really help communities move forward, structurally and policy-wise. But who was I to think I could make a difference in these communities when I don’t even know what a single mom with a few kids is facing day to day? Or what barriers are holding her back, and what kind of discrimination she faces. So for me, it was a great opportunity to learn about barriers, and learn about how nonprofits in our community work together to serve these individuals and families. And seeing that network that can provide food, help people get jobs and gain work skills, helping them get back to school…this showed me communications enables us to support fundraising for our organization, raise awareness, educate the Kansas City community, and advocate for our families.

 Allie: How do stories and different communications initiatives help you to elevate the mission of Bishop Sullivan Center?

Chanelle: Yeah, it’s definitely multi-level. It helps us reach potential future donors…and I also hope the creative communities in Kansas City see themselves in the marginalized people we serve at Bishop Sullivan Center. So, I see it as being multi-faceted in that way.

Allie: That’s what I enjoy about my job. When I interview a veteran, and if I can share their perspective artfully, maybe it will inspire more people to donate or learn more about veterans’ issues. And when you take that broader picture, you see why good marketing is so important in helping nonprofits work toward their missions. I think that shows the broader impact these communications can have.

Chanelle: Drawing new eyes and new hearts.

Check back next week to read the second half of the conversation – on networking, cause marketing, and community engagement.


M&C is a proud sponsor of YNPNkc, which provides diverse opportunities for networking around Kansas City, and partners with Nonprofit Connect to offer professional development programming for young professionals in the sector.


Guest Blog: Lydia Eckhoff of Crossworld Talks Direct Mail Strategy (Part 2 of 2)

As promised, below you'll find the second half of our guest blog from Lydia Eckhoff, Director of Development at Crossworld. In part 2, Lydia dives into changes she has made to Crossworld's direct mail strategy that have yielded results, as well as use of storytelling in letter copy.

What are some other more global changes you’ve made in your messaging and communications strategy that have yielded results (e.g., more donor-centric, conversational, getting to the “ask” a little more quickly…)?

M&C has been very helpful to us as we’ve thought through how to make our appeals more effective. The basic principles I try to keep in mind when I write are:

1)   Be donor-centric. I always go back over my drafts and rephrase as much as I can to use the word you more, especially with headlines, captions, pull quotes—anything that skimmers are especially likely to look at.

2)   Keep it simple. I am a huge fan of and run everything I write for donors through the app multiple times. I try not to mail out anything above a 6th grade reading level.

3)   Get to the point. M&C has reminded me to get to the ask as quickly as possible. So I try to have an attention-grabbing opening, but after that, I am on the clock to ask for the gift as quickly as I can. My initial bent was to have a story and develop a narrative. You hear so much about fundraising and storytelling and I also had read about how longer letters perform better, but I think that people were getting lost in the narrative. 

How has the use of stories come into your letter copy? How do you decide which stories to use and what is your editing process like, i.e., how do you define the strongest stories and decide what stays and what goes in a letter?

Kay Sprinkel Grace’s work has been very helpful. I love this quote from her: “People give to your organization because it meets needs, not because it has needs.”

I make a lot of test gifts to get on different mailing lists and see what’s out there. And If I get one more appeal about an organization’s fiscal year, I am going to scream. No one cares. Your fiscal year is your problem. Tell me about the person whose life will be changed by my gift.

We try to show the person the donor is helping and draw the shortest possible line between the donor and the beneficiary. Direct quotes from past or potential beneficiaries are always the most powerful. We try to keep our stories pretty on point—they end up being more snapshots than developed narratives. That seems to balance showing real-world impact and getting to the point as directly as we can.

When Is Enough Enough?

It’s estimated that as much as 30% of annual giving occurs in December and that for some organizations this can represent as much as half of their annual budget.

So, it is a big deal. And you’re right to want to do it right. But how do you know what right is?

One question we often hear is “How many contacts/outreaches should we have?”

Proponents of asking more typically argue more revenue justifies more asks. Opponents to asking more counter with concerns about donor fatigue. 


The problem is, both may be right, a phenomenon that has been label “the frequency math effect.” An IBM study of email last holiday season concluded “During heavy volume time frames, the higher cadence of emails typically produces fewer opens and clicks per message sent but more opens and clicks in total.”

So, how might that apply to fundraisers?

The chart above summarizes the Year End results of two subsequent campaigns for one nonprofit client. This organization wanted to aggressively increase Year End revenue, so added one new email (email #5) and one resend (email 4a). (Emails 3a and 4a were re-sends of the original message to those constituents who hadn’t open it within the first 48 hours.)

Year 2 saw a 29.6% increase in total revenue, well above standard industry increases for the year. But it also saw a 29% increase in total unsubscribes and revenue per email sent dropped nearly 25%. Greater return, at a greater cost.

So, now, what should they do?

The fact is, most organizations have multiple donor development objectives: immediate return, on the one hand, and cultivation of future potential, on the other. It may not be possible to give equal weight to both objectives in every message, or even in every month. But somehow, a balance must be maintained.

Our recommendation was to slow the cadence considerably in January, and to focus solely on more engaging content. And of course, to continue to monitor open, click-through and unsubscribe rates across the file.

What are you doing?