Monday, October 15, 2012

'Tis the season

....for charity appeals by the dozen in the mailbox. 

And I get to decide who has been naughty or nice.  

Nice means you tell me what you did with donors' money. I still read print, but a short email is also good. And if you tell me by email, do make it short. Like at least 53 percent of Americans, I use a smartphone, so I end up reading non-work emails while doing something else, like waiting in line at the grocery.

Naughty means you just keep asking for more (and more and more).  A study about Giving in Kansas City from 2008 found donors stop giving when they receive "too many appeals for more money."  Nearly 7 in 10 donors who had stopped making contributions to any one charity in the prior 12 months indicated that as their reason. Frankly, I was thrilled when one organization, after 18 months of unrelenting appeals and no gifts from this household, promised me in red on the outside of their envelope, "This is your last mailing from us!" Finally, they got it!  I didn't want to give to them.

If retention is THE number one issue now in giving, with 107 donors leaving an organization for every 100 gained, why are some charitable organizations driving donors away with too-frequent requests? 

Do computer systems only "recognize" the amount of the most recent contribution, not the cumulative total for a year? Or over a decade? Do donors of $250 at one time get three appeals a month?  Or only those of us who space our giving out? The "Donor Relations Guru" has some good advice about checking cumulative giving amounts.

Are organizations hanging on to practices I learned when I started in fundraising circa 1989 that might now need to change?  The work of Penelope Burk on donor-centered fundraising and others suggests that organizations must treat donors as valued partners in achieving goals, not as ATMs. So ask in more meaningful ways, not more often. Understand how donors read appeals and what they do.

Here is how one real donor, a valued partner, "processes" appeals. When I get the mail at night, I have these options for fundraising letters: I a) recycle immediately; b) set aside to review later, maybe while my computer warms up the next morning; or c) well....there is no c.  Many more fall in option A than in option B. 

Basically, if you sell your list to another organization, I'll never read that other organization's material and I'm likely to stop supporting you, too.  Pile A automatically.

For pile B, I use "found" time, like when waiting for coffee to brew. So, get my attention quickly. Use photos, make it short, tell me what my money will help you accomplish.  I like inserts -- not notecards and address labels (though I use those without ever giving a nickel back) but the mission-related content.  I'm more likely to read a colorful, short 'flier' than a long letter. 

If we decide to give, it is almost certain I'll set aside your material for the end of the month when I do all other household finances. So, maybe arrange your mailing to arrive just before then. And make it easy to do online or by having my bank send you a check. 

But I am a sample of one. And what works at organizations with a national donor base might or might not work for local grassroots charities. What inspires this married female Boomer might not appeal to a Gen X single guy. Practices in the US might not translate to Australia or India. Blackbaud is the only organization I am aware of that tracks fundraising practices internationally, so stay tuned to its site  for release of this year's State of the Nonprofit Industry, whcih will look at some topics in fundraising.

Thank you for reading.