How to tell if you’re mailing too much

In its periodic War on Fundraising, Charity Navigator Blog asks How Many Requests for Funding Did You Get This Past Year?


The post is about a project by an anonymous donor who built a list of name-brand nonprofits that had mailed him between 8 and 24 appeals over the course of a year. It asks the question: “How many times a year should a given charity contact you seeking support?”


Asking how many times a charity should contact people is like asking How many holes should I dig? It’s a meaningless question until there’s more information.


The question should be How can a charity be relevant in the life of a donor? Figure that one out, and the question about how many is virtually an afterthought.


Churches pass the plate 52 or more times a year. Do church-goers feel harassed and hounded by that?


And one ask for funds can be too many. If you’re a Republican, one letter from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is a mailbox-stuffing annoyance.


When the relationship is right, 24 appeals can feel just fine. In fact, I’ll bet the list-compiling donor above has a couple other charities that didn’t make the list, even though they contact him all the time: His kids’ school, his house of worship, a group doing something useful in his neighborhood. Maybe he volunteers somewhere, and not only gets mail and phone calls all the time, but gives up hours and hours of his time — far, far more burdensome than picking some irrelevant pieces of mail out of the box.


Frequency just isn’t an issue.


Or rather, it shouldn’t be an issue.


Because I’ll tell you this: If a donor keeps track of your mail in order to make the point that you send too much, you’re in trouble — with that donor, at least. Your mail is irrelevant to the point that just seeing your envelope reminds the donor how useless and irritating you are. The more you send, the worse it gets.


But the problem is relevance. Not frequency.


I wish Charity Navigator would stop cheerleading the pointless quantity-of-contact issue and instead give donors advice that would improve their relationships with their charities — and maybe force more nonprofits to be more relevant.


If donors were reading my blog, here’s what I’d advise them:



  • Don’t give to charities that ask you to support vague, nonspecific causes. Give to those that respect you enough to let you in on the action of what they’re doing specifically.
  • Always give gifts of $50 or more. That will keep your name off the rental and exchange markets, and really keep random, unwanted mail to a minimum.
  • If you’re getting more mail than you want from a charity, call them up and ask them to send less. Most will honor your request. (If they don’t, drop them like a hot potato.)
  • If a charity doesn’t promptly and regularly thank you for your giving and report back to you what you’ve helped accomplished, stop supporting them.


Comments

10 responses to “How to tell if you’re mailing too much”

  1. Love your take on this, Jeff. Also the specific suggestions for donors. Relevancy is the key. Thanks!

  2. Love your take on this, Jeff. Also the specific suggestions for donors. Relevancy is the key. Thanks!

  3. Except in rare cases, I make all of my donations between Christmas and New Year.I tell that to all of the charities, universities and political parties that I donate to. I tell them that if they want to send me one thing at the end of the year to remind me about them, to go ahead. But if they send me 12 over the course of the year, I’m still only making one donation. Save the paper. Save the cost of postage. Better yet – send me an e-mail mid-December.

  4. Except in rare cases, I make all of my donations between Christmas and New Year.I tell that to all of the charities, universities and political parties that I donate to. I tell them that if they want to send me one thing at the end of the year to remind me about them, to go ahead. But if they send me 12 over the course of the year, I’m still only making one donation. Save the paper. Save the cost of postage. Better yet – send me an e-mail mid-December.

  5. ambrose Avatar

    IMHO the appropriate frequency for donation requests for most charities is ONCE per YEAR, and requests should never come with gifts. Sending me pens (which I don’t use, but at least I can dispose of them by donating them), notepads (especially customized ones, because they can’t be donated), calendars (useless, I have tons of free calendars every year through other means), and especially mailing labels (absolutely useless and counter-productive—I got so many of these that I still have some with my old address—and are a hassle to dispose of because of the personal information) are fairly sure ways to force me to stop supporting them.

  6. ambrose Avatar

    IMHO the appropriate frequency for donation requests for most charities is ONCE per YEAR, and requests should never come with gifts. Sending me pens (which I don’t use, but at least I can dispose of them by donating them), notepads (especially customized ones, because they can’t be donated), calendars (useless, I have tons of free calendars every year through other means), and especially mailing labels (absolutely useless and counter-productive—I got so many of these that I still have some with my old address—and are a hassle to dispose of because of the personal information) are fairly sure ways to force me to stop supporting them.

  7. I always say that the value is in the question. I love how you have nailed them for asking the wrong question. How many times have we arrived at incorrect positions due to inadequate information because the questions were wrong?
    I did have to laugh however at your reader who complained about calendars and mailing labels. God bless the USO for not listening to this ambrose. I would not have the calendar I am looking at nor the mailing labels I am currently using!
    It suppose it shows how its different strokes for different folks!

  8. I always say that the value is in the question. I love how you have nailed them for asking the wrong question. How many times have we arrived at incorrect positions due to inadequate information because the questions were wrong?
    I did have to laugh however at your reader who complained about calendars and mailing labels. God bless the USO for not listening to this ambrose. I would not have the calendar I am looking at nor the mailing labels I am currently using!
    It suppose it shows how its different strokes for different folks!

  9. My personal concern with over-mailing is less about hearing from the organization (which is generally good) and more about their cost per dollar raised. I can think of two organizations in particular that have surely spent more in the past year soliciting a renewal from me than they received from me in the first place (I gave each a very small gift, in keeping with my limited budget). I agree with your argument that relevance matters more than quantity, but if you send too much, too often, at some point the power of your message gets stuck in an unopened envelope. It’s simply wasteful to send dozens of solicitations to the same person in a given year. A bit more strategy is called for.

  10. My personal concern with over-mailing is less about hearing from the organization (which is generally good) and more about their cost per dollar raised. I can think of two organizations in particular that have surely spent more in the past year soliciting a renewal from me than they received from me in the first place (I gave each a very small gift, in keeping with my limited budget). I agree with your argument that relevance matters more than quantity, but if you send too much, too often, at some point the power of your message gets stuck in an unopened envelope. It’s simply wasteful to send dozens of solicitations to the same person in a given year. A bit more strategy is called for.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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