Editor's Note: Fundraiser’s Nightmare
I've had a craptastic couple of weeks, thank you very much. So imagine my delight when I opened my mailbox to find a small envelope addressed to me in actual handwriting. How sweet that one of my dear friends would send me a pick-me-up and, better yet, take the time to do it the old-fashioned way! I was on top of the world.
But my euphoria melted away as I opened the envelope and realized that what I had received was not a heartfelt "thinking of you" note from a friend. Rather, it was a fundraising solicitation from an organization that I like and had donated to previously. Call me petty, but the disappointment was enough to make me toss the direct-mail piece into the recycling bin without reading a single word.
I know there are stats to support the fact that prospects respond well to these uber-personalized appeals. But I, personally, do not. Instead of making me feel "special," they just make me feel cheated. Because as much as I might like an organization and support the work it does, nothing it sends me could make me as happy as a handwritten card or letter from a friend.
That got me thinking about myself as a donor — back before I started working at FundRaising Success, before I had daily encounters with so many incredible organizations and became aware of the myriad devices nonprofits use to raise funds. I was a fundraiser's nightmare. I never read direct-mail pieces. If an envelope was compelling enough, I might have gone online to research the charity and its mission — but I still tossed out the unopened mailer. I gave often — when I had the time and some money in the bank. But if the phone rang or the toast popped before I hit the Donate button, I might never have gotten back to actually making the donation.
All of my giving was (and is) online. A particularly powerful television commercial for a charity could send me to my computer to give to a different organization with the same mission that I knew better. A banner ad on a Web site might have sparked a one-time gift, but all of the follow-up in the world wouldn't make me give again until the mood struck me. Over the course of two years, I could have given the same organization 10 gifts, and each would have been as spontaneous as the first — not the result of any well-planned strategy on the organization's part. I rarely read nonprofit e-mails, even from organizations that I supported.
Since I've been with FS, my behavior has changed a little. I read most of the fundraising mail I get. And since I gave up the gypsy freelance life, I have a steady income and give as much as I can to more organizations than ever — though my giving remains whimsical (read: random).
My point here is … well … 1) I'm sorry for being a royal pain in the butt and not fitting into any neat, little donor-behavior profile; and 2) you can consider me a cautionary tale, lest you think you have your donors and potential donors all figured out. There's got to be an organization out there with the strategy that can whip me into good, obedient, predictable donorhood. I'll let you know when you find me!