At the recent DMA Nonprofit Conference, Jennifer Donahue of NARAL presented her strategy for successful integration of direct response fundraising channels.

As reported by Fundraising Success, one element of NARAL's fundraising credo is: “No mercy shown the donor (be vigilant and consistent in staying connected to your donor base).” This along with the advice to shepherd donors through the channels “because you know them better than they know themselves.”


Over the years, I've heard donors (and nonprofit boards) voice plenty of complaints about over-solicitation. But what did “we” (fundraising consultants and nonprofit staffs conspiring together) usually continue to do? Keep right on soliciting, because “the data” indicated that enough donors would keep on responding to make the process cost-effective.

How many of you have struggled to come up with yet one more “special appeal” topic?!

To be sure, smarter fundraisers learned to segment their files, so as to waste less money and effort on less responsive donors. But still, the ethos has always been, re-solicit, re-solicit, re-solicit till the ROI on the segment breaks down.

How many donors are fatally alienated in this process, hidden by the aggregate data? Who knows. Those donors who fell by the wayside are considered chaff anyway.

My thinking on this has evolved over the years.

I wouldn't “mail them til they drop” anymore to squeeze out every last dollar of net income.

I think a wiser strategy these days would be to work my butt off to:

  • identify my historic sources of highest value donors, and prospect those sources as deeply as possible;
  • test and push my initial acquisition “ask” to the highest $$ level feasible;
  • try everything I possibly can to move new donors into monthly giving programs;
  • mail no “special” appeal that I wouldn't donate to myself;
  • line up enough major donors to make every special appeal a “matching gift” appeal;
  • educate donors about the true cost of doing business (to support higher dollar asks and gifts — $10, $15, $20, $30, $50 … where does the wheat begin these days, particularly in direct mail and phone solicitation?);
  • beg — absolutely beg! — donors to move their giving online;
  • build my direct marketing program to recover the acquisition cost of each new donor within one year (organizations and consultants have been stretching this “break-even” period longer and longer … just kidding themselves).

The best posture to be in today is to be candid with the donor. Sure, push every button you can with integrity to get that next or additional gift, but do it in a context like this (not necessarily this phraseology) …

Let's not kid each other … saving the world costs more than a cup of coffee. We need donors who will make the deepest commitment they can. Join us if you can make that kind of commitment. We'll use your gift wisely. Here's how.

If I were talking face-to-face with each prospect, I'd be tempted to say:

“We'd love to have your support, but realistically, if you can't commit at least $?? over the coming year, we're not really going to get the job done. I'll spend more effort begging you to give than I will saving the world … and neither of us will feel good about it.”

Will some donors complain in a focus group about over-solicitation and then still make multiple gifts? Sure. Is that healthy? No.

The consumer environment is changing to the point where “customers” expect their preferences to be respected … and abandon ship with alacrity when they are not. They have plenty of options. They occasionally run into satisfying customer experiences, and the bar gets raised for everyone else, including nonprofit marketers.

So you can continue to “slash and burn” your way through your house file if you like. Show them no mercy. Your “net” might look good for awhile longer. But IMHO, you are doing your organization a disservice, and soon the “data” will turn sour.


This article was posted in: Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Nonprofit management.
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