How to “fry the file” in fundraising

Many fundraisers live in fear that they’ll contact their donors too often, resulting in a catastrophic loss of love. There’s even a scary name for this: Fry the file.

That’s kind of like being a smoker who worries all the time that his cell phone is going to give him cancer.

Too much contact is theoretically possible, but it’s not something you should worry about. There’s simply no proof that increased contact leads to donor attrition. There’s plenty of evidence that too little contact quickly erodes your donorfile, leading to painful drops in revenue.

The real danger you should focus on is being irrelevant. That’s the common and proven way to annoy donors and make them stop giving.

When you are irrelevant to donors, they seldom complain about it. They just ignore you. Which is far worse than the handful of “too much mail” complaints you’re going to get no matter how much or little you mail.

Here are common ways fundraising makes itself irrelevant to donors:


  • It’s all about the organization — how wonderful they are in every way. It’s not about the donor and her opportunity to change the world.
  • It’s about things organization insiders care about, not what donors care about. You want to “build sustainable communities.” Donors want to save lives. Your work accomplishes both. But the fundraising is aimed at pleasing the insiders.
  • It’s aimed at the wrong age group. Design, color choice and other elements are what staffers in their 20s and 30s believe they would respond to. It leaves their real donors — who are typically 60 and up — out in the cold.
  • The segmentation is sloppy. It talks to non-donors as if they’re donors — or vice versa.
  • There’s no context. The organization only asks, never reports back on the impact of donors’ giving.

That’s how you really fry the file.


Comments

8 responses to “How to “fry the file” in fundraising”

  1. Jeff, I’d like to hear more about this:
    “It’s aimed at the wrong age group. Design, color choice and other elements are what staffers in their 20s and 30s believe they would respond to. It leaves their real donors — who are typically 60 and up — out in the cold.”
    Any examples, or resources you can point me to, on visual design for different generations?
    ~@karentgraham

  2. Jeff, I’d like to hear more about this:
    “It’s aimed at the wrong age group. Design, color choice and other elements are what staffers in their 20s and 30s believe they would respond to. It leaves their real donors — who are typically 60 and up — out in the cold.”
    Any examples, or resources you can point me to, on visual design for different generations?
    ~@karentgraham

  3. Sloppy segmentation is the worst! Using effective reports and predictive analytics, you can do much better on this element of engagement. It may take a little more time but the ROI is great.

  4. Sloppy segmentation is the worst! Using effective reports and predictive analytics, you can do much better on this element of engagement. It may take a little more time but the ROI is great.

  5. I’ve never heard the phrase “fry the file” before. I fear our field is going to the dogs when we talk about files rather than people. I don’t think we’d be inclined to talk about “frying Jane Smith.” So easy to forget that those files are really just markers for real, live, warm blooded folks.

  6. I’ve never heard the phrase “fry the file” before. I fear our field is going to the dogs when we talk about files rather than people. I don’t think we’d be inclined to talk about “frying Jane Smith.” So easy to forget that those files are really just markers for real, live, warm blooded folks.

  7. Souzan Karadsheh Avatar
    Souzan Karadsheh

    I agree that organizations need to stay relevant to their constituents, donors and prospects. Engaging donors in your cause takes more contact than fundraisers, sometimes, dare to or are willing to try. It takes the appropriate number of “touches” through the right channels and doing so with intentionality.

  8. Souzan Karadsheh Avatar
    Souzan Karadsheh

    I agree that organizations need to stay relevant to their constituents, donors and prospects. Engaging donors in your cause takes more contact than fundraisers, sometimes, dare to or are willing to try. It takes the appropriate number of “touches” through the right channels and doing so with intentionality.

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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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About the blogger

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.