Are You Sending Too Much Mail?
The most common complaint donors make about fundraising? Too much mail! Right?
Do those too-much-mail complaints stab you in the heart because you're afraid they might be correct? Well, they are correct. It's not possible for them to be wrong: If a donor perceives too much mail, she's getting too much mail. It's something we need to deal with.
But here's the thing: You'll never solve the too-much-mail problem if you treat it as a numbers game. Sure, people complain about the amount of mail, and you're sending out a lot of it. But the connection between those two things is not as direct as it looks.
Let's take a look at a normal direct-mail donor's mailbox. Say she gets, on average, five pieces of fundraising mail every day. In the course of a year, that's about 1,500 fundraising pieces. If you're sending 12 pieces a year to this particular donor, that's less than 1 percent of her total fundraising mail.
Mail half as much. Now you're sending six pieces a year. That's a meaningful, significant step, isn't it?
Not so much. With your cut, she now gets 1,494 pieces of mail instead of 1,500. That's an average of 4.98 a day. You've made virtually no difference in her daily junk-mail experience.
Maybe you're willing to say, "Every little bit helps," and feel good about doing your part, even if it's small. Before you do that, though, let's take a look at the consequences of halving the mail you send.
1. You'll get fewer gifts per donor. Fewer opportunities to give equals fewer gifts. If you were getting three gifts per year from a donor by sending 12 mailings, chances are you'll get two gifts by sending six. Your ratio is better, but you took a 33 percent hit in total revenue. Ouch.
2. Worse yet, donor retention drops with decreased contact. A number of one-gift and two-gift donors will simply drift to zero gifts. That means not only lost revenue now, but years into the future. The cumulative loss of donors and revenue can put your organization in a devastating downward spiral.
And by the way, your donor still gets too much mail. You've paid a steep price and not solved the problem.
I think the real trigger of most too-much-mail complaints isn't the mail count from any given sender, but the volume that lands in the mailbox on a given day.
Think about your own experience: You get one useless credit card offer in the mail; you just toss it without a second thought. The next day, you get seven unwanted credit card offers. That feels out of control, wasteful and stupid. Too much mail!
That sense is even stronger for donors. When they get piles of appeals, they see money spent on mail instead of the causes. So not only are their mailboxes full of stuff they don't want, but they get visions of children going hungry because of it. I'd complain too, if I thought that!
So what can you do? Instead of tinkering with the quantity you mail, focus on relationship and relevance. That's how you solve the too-much-mail problem.
Give the squeaky wheel the grease
Of the vast majority of your donors who never complain about your mail frequency, some may be annoyed but seething in silence. But a lot more aren't complaining because they don't have a complaint. They're fine with what they're getting.
When somebody complains about too much mail, send that person less mail. You probably already do this, but it bears repeating: Satisfy those who raise their hands. Don't generalize their complaints to everyone else.
Make a better offer
Donors donate. They give purposefully and with joy. They show up on your lists because they love to change the world.
You can win their hearts (not to mention their donations) by helping them really change the world. Pitch them offers that are specific, exciting and impactful. Thrill them with amazing philanthropic "deals" that help fulfill their desire to make a difference.
Do that, and they'll love you too much to see your stuff as junk mail. They won't complain, because they'll be too busy writing checks, enjoying the warm glow and looking forward to the next appeal.
Tell a more memorable story
Part of the currency fundraisers give in exchange for donations is stories. To be human is to love and crave stories. Especially true stories that have something to do with us. If your mail contains stories so gripping and memorable that your donors can't wait to repeat them, you'll escape the junk-mail category.
Be all about the donors, not yourself
Here's a thought you should have tattooed on your forearm: Donors don't give because you are great. They give because they are great.
The fundraisers who don't get that are the ones who produce all that annoying junk mail — that self-centered cacophony of competing look-at-me claims. One of the quickest ways out of the junk-mail pile is to talk about the donor:
- Remind her how special she is. The fact that she gives to you (or even shows up on lists of likely donors) puts her in a special elite.
- Talk about things you have in common with her — you practice the same faith, or live in the same community, or share the same interests and passions.
- Don't try to educate her into being more like you.
- Make your materials easy to read. If your designers (or brand graphic standards) insist on faddish, hard-to-read fonts, type treatments and colors, get new ones. (Designers or graphic standards!)
- Don't ask her to be one soldier in your army; ask if you can be a soldier in her army.
Complete the circle
Too often, giving to charity is like this: You get a request. You make a gift. You get a receipt (if you're lucky). You get another request. It's like riding a merry-go-round, but on the little couch. The scenery never changes, never progresses or improves; you just keep throwing money at the problem. The fact that donors give at all under such a system is testament to their patience and good will.
If you are one of the few organizations that actually reports back to the donors on the impact they're having, you have at least one foot outside the junk-mail ring.
Reporting back — usually in a donor-centered newsletter — changes the donor experience from a frustrating circle to a story that makes sense: She gives. She finds out her gift made a difference. She gives again to make even more difference. Junk mail? No way! This is a rewarding relationship.
That's how you tackle the too-much-mail problem. Forget the number of mailings you should or shouldn't send. The problem isn't too much mail. It's too little relevance. Fix the real problem. FS