What to do about your “weakest” fundraising appeal

It was a pretty good idea.

A foundation that wanted to help strengthen local nonprofits was offering large grants of unrestricted funds, requiring only that the grantees use the money is “matching funds” in fundraising campaigns.

They knew that matching funds offers improve fundraising, so they realized helping local nonprofits improve their fundraising had short-term and long-term impact.

But the foundation stipulated that the matching funds should be applied to the grantee’s “weakest” appeal of the year. It seems they thought the best way to use their grant was to bolster an appeal that hadn’t done well.

That last stipulation is what ruined a cool idea.

Because, given a choice, it’s better to improve your best successes than to improve your relative failures.

Here’s why:

Let’s say adding matching funds to an appeal can be counted on to improve it by 10%. (It usually does considerably better than that; I just want to keep the math easy.)

Now let’s say your weakest appeal gets a 2% response and nets $10,000. Your strongest gets 10% response for a net of $50,000.

If you apply matching funds to the weakest appeal, it nets $11,000. Hooray!

If you apply matching funds to your strongest appeal, it will net $55,000.

What do you prefer: An increase of $1,000, or an increase of $5,000?

But that’s not all. Your strongest appeal gets more revenue because it gets more people to donate. Every time a donor gives, she grows more likely to give again, give more, put you in her will, tell others about you … Giving leads to more giving.

So your improved weak appeal does less of everything you want.

We all have a “weakest appeal.” We should do our best to improve it.

But if you really want to make a big and lasting difference, put more thought and energy into improving your strongest appeals.


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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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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.

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