When your donor doesn’t respond

Maybe you’ve heard this insight:

Our donors give 2.4 times a year. So we should only send three appeals a year.

Sounds reasonable. I mean, why send 5, 10, or more appeals when you’re going to get fewer than three responses? Aren’t all those extra requests just a waste of money?

The first error in that thinking is it confuses the average with “what everybody does.” That’s not what average means!

But worse than that, that average number doesn’t reveal what happens with donors before they give. There’s evidence that it often takes more than one ask to motivate one gift.

This means non-response to an appeal may not be a failure, but a part of success.

We see it clearly with print and broadcast fundraising: Response is slow at first — often disturbingly slow. Then builds with repetition before it eventually levels off.

Maybe you’ve noticed this in your own life: An online banner keeps popping up, again and again. At first, you don’t notice it. After a while, you realize it’s there. Then you might start to get annoyed with it … that’s about the time you are mostly likely to click through!

Attention is harder to get than donations. Just because you’re talking doesn’t mean they’re listening. In many cases, the first couple of times you say something, all you’re doing is planting the seed for their attention later.

I saw a study once that showed new donors to direct mail campaigns had on average received direct mail from that organization six times before they donated.

So while we maybe have counted their lack of response those first six times as pure failure, it turns out they were a necessary part of the process of getting their attention so we could get their gift.

This doesn’t mean it makes sense to contact donors willy-nilly all the time. But it does tell us that non-response is not always a failure. And cutting donors out of communication might just be the thing that kills your relationship with them.


Comments

4 responses to “When your donor doesn’t respond”

  1. Jeff, great post. The Rule of Seven in marketing is as old as marketing itself, basically saying that a prospect has to see a message at least seven times before they take action. It’s a similar situation with fundraising.

  2. Jeff, great post. The Rule of Seven in marketing is as old as marketing itself, basically saying that a prospect has to see a message at least seven times before they take action. It’s a similar situation with fundraising.

  3. Terrie Turner Avatar
    Terrie Turner

    ‘Back in the day’ when I did Direct Response 60 second TV spots I learned that a TV ad doesn’t even enter the person’s conscious till they’ve seen it 3 times. Repetition is a necessary part of the process.

  4. Terrie Turner Avatar
    Terrie Turner

    ‘Back in the day’ when I did Direct Response 60 second TV spots I learned that a TV ad doesn’t even enter the person’s conscious till they’ve seen it 3 times. Repetition is a necessary part of the process.

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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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