OK Kids — especially the young (under 50) and those blessedly old — I’m gonna take you on a trip down Memory Lane in hopes of dealing with Tom’s question Who’s a Poor Fundraiser to Believe?

If you have the usual internet-gnat attention span, please move on now.  This is gonna take a few minutes.

Let me explain. Better yet. Stick with me because there’s a great treat at the end.

At Thanksgiving in 1965 an 18-year-old rising folk singer named Arlo Davy Guthrie (son of Woody Guthrie) drove up from Queens, N.Y., to Great Barrington to visit a friend named Alice Brock.

While he was there, he did Alice and her husband, Ray, a favor. He took out their garbage. It would change his life. Guthrie and his buddy threw the garbage down a ditch where others often did the same thing.

But the next day, Guthrie was arrested for littering, and that blip is what kept him from being drafted into the Vietnam War because he had an arrest record.

It also became the narrative for a little ditty he wrote two years later that he called “Alice’s Restaurant”. Part song, part storytelling, it became a rallying call for opponents to the Vietnam War.

Guthrie has said that because of the length of the piece, he never expected the song to be released, much less become an anti-war anthem, because such extended monologues were extremely rare in an era when singles were typically less than three minutes in length.

Three minutes. That gnat-like attention inflicts us to this day — more than ever.

Perhaps that’s why, Tom, rather simplistically, in his post, raises this question: When it comes to “mailing less and raising more” who’s to be believed: Jeff Brooks (mail more) or Roger Craver (mail less).

What a foolish dichotomy. (And, Tom, you know better. Shame.)

Questions like this aren’t simple or simplistic. There is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

The ‘answers’ for ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large’ organizations are all different.  Stupid me for not making this clear in all the posts I’ve done on this subject. Duh!

Required: Some thinking. And yes, careful reading.

I have only one request about the information we share on The Agitator.  That you actually read (including the links) and think about and make your own judgments on the content. We don’t deliver THE ANSWER  in 15 seconds contrary to normal online  fare. And we sure as hell, in return for the time we spend on topics, expect readers to read.

And so, I’m going to ask you to invest time on a topic that may very well affect the long-term future of your organization when we, take the time to dig up and report case histories. As we’ve done. Over and over. Herehere and here. These post should trigger your thoughts about ‘frequency’, ‘retention’, ‘donor experience’, ‘efficiency’ and much, much more beyond the ‘frequency of communication’ issue.

Garbage In, Stupidity Out

I led this piece with Arlo’s Alice’s Restaurant with  two points: 1) It’s 18 minutes long, and 2) it tells a complete story — about a war that killed 50,000 Americans and an untold number of Vietnamese.

And, by a paltry comparison, that’s the very least time it takes to understand the issues around ‘mailing less and making more’.

Jeff’ Brooks is not right. Agitator’’s not right. Get a grip and start thinking for yourself.

The only thing either Jeff or I can do is ask — and attempt to answer — questions. It’s up to you and your critical powers to challenge our findings and recommendations.

I’m featuring Alice’s Restaurant because Arlo Guthrie was challenging the national status quo thinking — over a war. Probably a tad more important than orange vs. blue envelopes or whatever.

Surely, all of us should be challenging the status quo thinking over much less — like how many times a year donors should be contacted.

  • If you’re a ‘small’ organization, why should you only contact your donors 2 times per year. (Small thinking will only keep your small; and eventually put you out of business.)
  • If you’re large organization and are abusing your donors with mega-contacts the result will be the same.

Hiding behind the status quo is a stupid, awful, no good, very bad set of myths and tribal wisdom. Period.

Sure, ‘small’ organizations who only contact and ask their donors once a year are stupid. So are BIG organizations that abuse their donors 12, 15, 20 times a year. Stupid X 2.

Frankly, big or small, there’s no hiding from the truth. Small organizations who only contact their organizations one, two, or four times a year are most probably doing it inefficiently and ineffectively. (Is there any ‘small’ org out there that looks at ‘efficiency’? They should, but mainly don’ t know how. ‘Small’ is no excuse for  bad practice.)

Large organizations who plunder their donors with 15, 20, 25 contacts are not only inefficient, but murdersome when it comes to destroying donor loyalty and retention. (Most practice the idiotic RFM approach  and miss millions of $ while angering donors and lowering retention rates. ‘Large’ is no excuse for stupid squared.)

You only need look at the numbers. And the case histories off why the ‘mail more’ folks have little touch with reality. But that will take more than 18 minutes.

Here at The Agitator we’ve attempted to report over and over the reasoning and experience underlying The Dangerous Dictum of Mailing ‘ Mail More, Make More. But, you gotta read the content. And read the links in that post that contain evidence.

Sorry, there’s no easy path to understanding.

This inability to dig in and understand is one of the reasons why  51 years ago Arlo Guthrie took a whole 18 minutes (the length of Nixon’s infamous ‘gap’ in the ‘Watergate Tape) to powerfully make his point against the war in Vietnam.

And why we all need to spend a bit more time in digging into understanding the key questions  about our important work.

How much time do you take for critical thinking?


P.S. Here’s your reward for patience. It’s long and it mobilized millions. 18 minutes and all.

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This article was posted in: Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Fundraising analytics / data, Fundraising philosophy/profession, Innovation.
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