The donor hasn’t given in 9 years — should you keep trying?

I want to show you a smart piece of fundraising I got in the mail recently from Feeding America.

First the envelope:

FA OEfront

This is a smart envelope. I don’t know what DONOR CONFIRMATION ENCLOSED means, and that’s its power. (Also, the organization that sent it is not identified in any way — there’s only a PO Box address on the back flap.

Because it incites curiosity, it likely gets a good open rate. (Wouldn’t it be cool if we could measure the open rate of direct mail the way we can for email?

But here’s where it gets interesting:

FA RDfront

This, along with a return envelope, is the entire contents of the pack.

As you can see in the box on the lower panel, I am a deeply lapsed donor to this organization — nearly nine years. The amount of my last gift (which I’ve crossed out to protect my meagre privacy) was enough to put me in a mid-value donor category.

For reasons of my own, I stopped giving to this organization. They have no idea why, and really no way to find out, short of asking me directly. But they want me (and my mid-value potential) back!

For most donors, it would be crazy to keep mailing someone as deeply lapsed as I am. The response rate will be abysmal — probably lower than 0.2%. A crazy waste of money.

But if the donor’s last gift is high enough, all the math changes. Because the small number of those donors who do reactivate at a very high average gift. And be more likely than average to upgrade. Suddenly that terrible response rate doesn’t look so bad!

Two more things I want to point out about this pack:

  1. It has a good offer — a match that will “TRIPLE your impact”. Smart move, as a match dependably works better than the same pack without a match.
  2. The pack is dirt cheap. That’s not always a smart tactic, but in this case it might be — over-spending on an audience as cold as I am can quickly undermine the feasibility of the project.

Winning back a deeply lapsed mid-value donor is worth a little extra work!


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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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