Restraint: the quick path to losing donors

Survey research could kill your fundraising.

Here’s an example, from Burk’s Blog: The Profitability of Restraint.

This is an extreme use of qualitative research that leads to unsupportable conclusions. Namely, in this case, that the top reason donors stop giving is “over-solicitation.”

… donors feel bombarded, and their giving patterns reflect their growing frustration. Today, over-solicitation ranks first among reasons why donors stop giving. More than 90% of donors who start giving to a particular charity stop giving within five appeals….

The conclusion: “There is much more money to be made by holding back, by giving donors time to think….”

This is not supported by evidence.

(Any charity that’s experiencing the claimed “90% of donors stop giving within five appeals” is in deeper trouble than anyone I’ve ever worked with — and I’ve seen organizations in serious tailspins.)

It would be seriously irresponsible for you to follow this advice, because it’s not based on actual behavioral reality.

Every test I’ve been involved in or heard about tells a very different story: “Holding back” will cost you big. You’ll get less net revenue in the short run, and you’ll lose more donors in the long run. You are in a lot more danger from under-communicating than you are from over-communicating.

Don’t believe me? Do you think your donors are different from other donors? There’s a small possibility that they are.

If you think your donors are completely different and restraint would be profitable, do this first: Set aside two groups of donors. For the first group, send X appeals in the course of a year (X being the number you normally send). For the second group, send X/2. Then track the response and retention of the two groups over the course of the year.

I can almost guarantee that the first group, the one you communicate with more, will not only give more, but a higher percentage of them will stay with you over the long term.

Only watching actual behavior can tell you if your quantity of communication frustrates them into not giving. Anyone who says otherwise, citing opinion-based research like surveys or focus groups, is selling you dangerous snake-oil.


Comments

2 responses to “Restraint: the quick path to losing donors”

  1. Jeff,
    As an academically trained and hardened practitioner of survey research you might expect me to take issue with your semi-regular research bashing.
    In fact, you are often correct – the vast majority of research and subsequent findings, like that of Burk (and countless others) is not just garbage but dangerous garbage.
    That said, there is right and wrong way to do and use survey research. Non-profits, as a rule, are woefully inadequate when it comes to paying attention to and understanding donor attitudes. After all, the marketing, communicating and fundraising done by non-profits does NOT (directly) impact donor behavior. It does directly impact donor attitudes, which in turn, drive behavior.
    Until the non-profit sector starts putting the same energy and focus into measuring and managing donor attitudes that they do with donor behavior, they will forever operate at a deficiency. This is not an either/or argument, attitude and behavior complement each other and are both necessary to optimize the marketing and fundraising mix.
    To repeat however, there is a right and wrong way to do it. It is far more science than art and only the artists selling the product claim otherwise.
    To your specific counterpoint to the Burk finding, we have survey based, statistically modeled data linked to actual transactional data that, in addition to your personal experience, validates your point. The frequency of communication does NOT negatively impact Donor Commitment levels – a proven, leading indicator of whether donors stay or go.

  2. Jeff,
    As an academically trained and hardened practitioner of survey research you might expect me to take issue with your semi-regular research bashing.
    In fact, you are often correct – the vast majority of research and subsequent findings, like that of Burk (and countless others) is not just garbage but dangerous garbage.
    That said, there is right and wrong way to do and use survey research. Non-profits, as a rule, are woefully inadequate when it comes to paying attention to and understanding donor attitudes. After all, the marketing, communicating and fundraising done by non-profits does NOT (directly) impact donor behavior. It does directly impact donor attitudes, which in turn, drive behavior.
    Until the non-profit sector starts putting the same energy and focus into measuring and managing donor attitudes that they do with donor behavior, they will forever operate at a deficiency. This is not an either/or argument, attitude and behavior complement each other and are both necessary to optimize the marketing and fundraising mix.
    To repeat however, there is a right and wrong way to do it. It is far more science than art and only the artists selling the product claim otherwise.
    To your specific counterpoint to the Burk finding, we have survey based, statistically modeled data linked to actual transactional data that, in addition to your personal experience, validates your point. The frequency of communication does NOT negatively impact Donor Commitment levels – a proven, leading indicator of whether donors stay or go.

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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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