How “We’ll never ask again” fundraising works

Unclemaynardttdmk

A weeks back, I posted some envelopes from Uncle Maynard’s Treasure Trove of Direct Mail Knowledge that featured textures.

A number of commenters noted the teaser on one of the envelopes, this one from CARE:

Careteaser

Wait a minute, they asked. How exactly does that work? How can it possibly be sustainable?

Good question.

CARE is not the only organization using this tactic in direct mail fundraising. Quite a few large national fundraisers use this, and have been using it for several years. The fact that we see this we’ll never ask again approach repeatedly and over time tells us one thing: It works.

Here’s how: These letters don’t automatically drop donors off their list after one gift. They require the donor to opt out of future asks. See how it’s handled on the reply device:

Carerd

I don’t have any inside knowledge about these mailings, so I’ll make some semi-educated guesses about them:


  • The tactic probably increases response rate.
  • It probably gets a lower average gift, and that may depress long-term value and/or future retention.
  • The number of donors who opt out is probably small.

The organizations doing this are sophisticated. I’m pretty sure they’re watching the long-term value of these donors, and finding it acceptable.

In my experience, giving donors choices about how your relationship will be has a positive influence on later retention. And this package offers choices.

This fundraising tactic is probably not stupid or crazy. Even though it might seem so at first glance.

But I still have a problem with it.

I think it insidiously undermines the brand of the organization. It all but says, We’d rather let more children go hungry than bother you with junk mail. The amount of mail a donor gets matters not at all compared to causes like poverty. That’s just a truth, and I think we should live that truth out by finding donors who care about our causes and mailing them as often as necessary. (Respecting their wishes, of course.)

In fact, I think when you send messages that you know your mail is unwanted, you start a self-fulfilling cycle that not only undermines your brand but the brand of fundraising in general. You encourage donors to think of fundraising messages as an undesirable commodity. Not important messages about real issues — which is what they should be.

If I’m right about this, there’s really no way to prove it.

Except maybe this: If we’re systematically undermining the premise of fundraising, we might see generally dropping response rates and retention.

Which is exactly what’s happening.

Bottom line: We’ll never ask again may be an effective fundraising tactic, but I think it’s a poison pill that will hurt in the long run.

More from the Trove


Comments

4 responses to “How “We’ll never ask again” fundraising works”

  1. This tactic reminds me of my days at WHYY. We were never allowed to do pre-pledge drive campaigns, offering to shorten the actual drives. Our SVP thought that sending out negative messages implying that we hated pledge too (and we did but that’s another story) eroded our effectiveness. And how could we turn back from this stance without sounding like hypocrites?
    I just think negative statements are not good conversation starters or relationship builders with donors. You can follow up in a welcome package or acknowledgement inviting the donor to choose communication type or frequency and spin it as a service because you love them so much. But the other way, not so much.

  2. This tactic reminds me of my days at WHYY. We were never allowed to do pre-pledge drive campaigns, offering to shorten the actual drives. Our SVP thought that sending out negative messages implying that we hated pledge too (and we did but that’s another story) eroded our effectiveness. And how could we turn back from this stance without sounding like hypocrites?
    I just think negative statements are not good conversation starters or relationship builders with donors. You can follow up in a welcome package or acknowledgement inviting the donor to choose communication type or frequency and spin it as a service because you love them so much. But the other way, not so much.

  3. Paul Bobnak Avatar
    Paul Bobnak

    Hi, Fern – WXPN (full disclosure – I’m a volunteer) had some success a few years back with a pre-fund drive effort both in direct mail and with on-air promotions. It’s a double-edged sword: money gets raised & goals met in the short term, but long term I think it subtly reinforces negative many potential donors associate with membership/donor drives.

  4. Paul Bobnak Avatar
    Paul Bobnak

    Hi, Fern – WXPN (full disclosure – I’m a volunteer) had some success a few years back with a pre-fund drive effort both in direct mail and with on-air promotions. It’s a double-edged sword: money gets raised & goals met in the short term, but long term I think it subtly reinforces negative many potential donors associate with membership/donor drives.

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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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