What to do when the experts are wrong

The Fundraising Detective asks an interesting question: “We break all the rules, but we’re doing well anyway. What should we do?” (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.)

Our appeal letters to current supporters are wordy, hard to read, use complicated language, bury the ask (if they ask at all), don’t have a p.s., don’t use underlining, italics or bold to emphasize points and break just about every rule you could name.

However, the results look pretty good: over the last five years response rates have never dropped below 10% and average gifts have increased year on year.

It happens. The experts know a lot about fundraising, but they don’t know your file. All donorfiles are different. Some files are just plain moonbat/wingnut-weird.

It’s especially possible if you’re a smaller organization. You’re flying in the face of everything the experts say, yet you’re doing well. What’s the deal? It’s probably one of these things:


  1. You have a great group of donors who believe in your cause, in spite of your fundraising. If you’d follow best practices, you’d do even better than you are now.
  2. You have an unusual group of donors and you’ve found an effective (though unusual) way to motivate them. If you followed best practices, you’d wouldn’t do as well as you do now.
  3. Your donors care about your cause, not the way your communicate. It doesn’t really matter whether you follow best practices or not. They’re going to keep supporting you at about the same level.

If it’s #1, you should start doing things right. If it’s #2, you shouldn’t change anything. If it’s #3, you can do whatever you want. The trick is to figure out which it is.

Go slow. Test a lot. If your quantities are too small for valid testing, then cautiously introduce a best practice technique (just one at a time!) and see what happens. A single test won’t tell you the whole truth. Try a lot of different things.

Also, note that the larger you get, the more “normal” your file will be. If you have a small file that’s responding well to eccentric fundraising practices, it’s not likely to stay that way as you grow.


Comments

2 responses to “What to do when the experts are wrong”

  1. Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for the advice. I’m hoping it’s number one but am definitely going slow and testing things bit by bit.
    The file is relatively small (10,000 or so) and has it quirks. For example, I found out yesterday we’ve been mailing people for 15 years and they’ve never responded!
    Our next appeal goes out next week, so I’ll report back on progress…
    Thanks again,
    Craig

  2. Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for the advice. I’m hoping it’s number one but am definitely going slow and testing things bit by bit.
    The file is relatively small (10,000 or so) and has it quirks. For example, I found out yesterday we’ve been mailing people for 15 years and they’ve never responded!
    Our next appeal goes out next week, so I’ll report back on progress…
    Thanks again,
    Craig

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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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