Sometimes non-response is a good thing

Stop me if you’ve heard (or had) this little insight: Our donors give 2.4 times a year. So we should only send three appeals a year.

If you don’t think very hard, it sounds sensible. I mean, why send 5, 10, or 20 appeals when you’re going to get less than three responses? Aren’t all those extra requests just a waste of money?

Beside the error of confusing the average with “what everybody does,” there’s the issue of real life: There’s fascinating evidence that for many donors it takes more than one ask to motivate one gift.

Let that sink in. If it’s true, it means non-response may not always be a failure. It may be step #1 (or #2 or #3) toward success.

We see it clearly with print and broadcast fundraising: response builds with repetition before it levels off.

Attention is at a premium in our society; you don’t get attention just for showing up. Just because you’re talking doesn’t mean they’re listening. In many cases, the first couple of times you say something, you’re planting the seed for their full attention later.

This doesn’t mean it makes sense to mail donors willy-nilly. We still have a responsibility to mail smart. The real trick to cutting back on wasted appeals is to pay attention to what your donors do. You’ll find that they aren’t one homogeneous blob of people who behave all the same:

  • Some are going to give one gift a year and only need only one appeal to prompt that gift.
  • Some are going to give ten or more gifts, and need lots of appeals to prompt all that activity.
  • Some give every two, three, or four appeals.
  • Some give regularly, but their amounts are low, so you’re actually losing money by mailing to them frequently.
  • A few have died, and you haven’t yet learned that.

Clean, up-to-date donor data is an important part of mailing right. Basic RFM segmentation will get you a good deal of the way toward not mailing uselessly. Statistical modeling can uncover even more important information about who’s likely to respond or not.

Just don’t assume that not mailing is the right thing to do. It might be a relationship-killer.

(This post first appeared on February 15, 2010.)


Comments

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

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.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

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.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

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.

Recent Comments

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.