“Dear Friend” fundraising probably won’t kill you

To hear some people talk, addressing a donor as “Dear Friend” — anything other than their name — will squash response flat and make donors angry and spiteful forever.

Not quite.

Dear Friend is far from the worst thing you can say to your beloved donors.

Donors respond well to their own names. But “Dear Friend” won’t destroy fundraising results.

In head-to-head testing, non-personalized messages often perform as well, or nearly as well, as personalized ones.

This used to be a more important question that it is now. It used to cost meaningfully more to personalize. We needed to be sure that the extra cost personalization was worthwhile. Sometimes, personalizing was worth it. Sometimes not.

The cost difference is not significant any more. Digital printing means there’s usually no cost difference. You might as well personalize.

But there are times when you can’t personalize, usually because you don’t have the recipients’ names. Or for some reason the cost to personalize is a lot more.

In those situations, don’t sweat it. Dear Friend will not be the end of the world.

In certain specific situations, non-personalized messages do significantly better.

Here’s the situation: Local organizations with services and donors all in a defined area may be able to acquire new donors by renting all the addresses in certain ZIP codes. (This used to work quite well; it is more challenging now. Try this with expert help, if at all!)

These postal lists include recipient names, but I once tested using names against addressing them as “Dear Friendly Neighbor.” There was no cost difference; we just replaced the names for the test group.

“Dear Friendly Neighbor” did significantly better than the personalized version.

Go figure. Our hypothesis: the lists were always slightly out of date, so some percentage of the names were not the current residents. For those, addressing them generically was better than using the wrong name.

Bottom line: It’s good to use people’s names. But if you can’t, all is not lost.


Writing this post about personalization reminded me of the days when the ability to use data to personalize was a novel new “trick.” Exciting to use, so it was sometimes over-used.

With the help of AI, here’s a short appeal in the style of that heady time in fundraising.

Dear Mr. Jeffrey A. Brooks,

Puppies are some of the most innocent and playful creatures on Earth. They bring joy to our lives and make us laugh with their antics. I’m sure you agree, Mr. Jeffrey A. Brooks.

But sadly, Mr. Jeffrey A. Brooks, many puppies are endangered.

Mr. Jeffrey A. Brooks, there are many reasons why puppies become endangered. Some are born into poverty and don’t have access to food or shelter. Others are abandoned by their owners and left to fend for themselves. And still others are victims of animal cruelty.

Whatever the reason, endangered puppies need our help, Mr. Jeffrey A. Brooks. Will you donate to Springfield Puppy Rescue today?

Mr. Jeffrey A. Brooks, we can make a difference in the lives of endangered puppies. Please, Mr. Jeffrey A. Brooks, join me in helping to save them.

Thank you for your support, Mr. Jeffrey A. Brooks.


Comments

2 responses to ““Dear Friend” fundraising probably won’t kill you”

  1. dkeffect Avatar

    Greetings!
    Unless you KNOW for certain how people like to be addressed, personalization can be tricky.
    A woman likes to be addressed as Mrs. instead of Ms. Another woman likes us to use her first name, but her companion doesn’t like the familiarity of using a first name.
    A couple likes Mr. and Mrs. but another couple prefers first names — so long as the first name used uses the woman’s name first.
    All of these examples come from situations in my fundraising career.

  2. dkeffect Avatar

    Greetings!
    Unless you KNOW for certain how people like to be addressed, personalization can be tricky.
    A woman likes to be addressed as Mrs. instead of Ms. Another woman likes us to use her first name, but her companion doesn’t like the familiarity of using a first name.
    A couple likes Mr. and Mrs. but another couple prefers first names — so long as the first name used uses the woman’s name first.
    All of these examples come from situations in my fundraising career.

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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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