Turn Doubters Into Believers
I’m confident that few of my colleagues who’ve been in the business over the past two decades will disagree when I say that potential donors are far more skeptical about fundraising solicitations than they were 20 years ago.
The evidence can be found in numerous places: comments noted on response forms or to telemarketers making calls; inquiries made to the Better Business Bureau or to state attorneys; more and more additions to the National Do-Not-Call Registry and the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service.
What are the causes? There probably are many. The increasing volume of solicitations in the mailbox and the increasing use of telemarketing over the past two decades certainly have taken a toll. Internet users are inundated by spam. As a result, donors face an onslaught of fundraising solicitations every day via their mailboxes, telephones and e-mail inboxes.
Major scandals within the nonprofit community, which have drawn attention to irregularities concerning the use of funds, haven’t helped the situation. The United Way scandals, the American Red Cross’ post-Sept. 11 controversy and other hullabaloos have affected many nonprofit donors’ confidence. Unfortunately, the mistakes of a few have tainted all of us to some degree.
So what can you do about it? How can you combat increasing donor skepticism and protect your fundraising program? It’s not practical to trim your own use of direct mail, telefundraising or e-philanthropy. If you pull back on your solicitations, some other nonprofit will fill the void with its own fundraising campaigns. Out of sight, out of mind … your donors and potential donors simply will direct their contributions elsewhere.
The best way to combat donor skepticism is by addressing the issue head-on. You need to illustrate your organization’s effectiveness and efficiency within your fundraising campaigns.
The importance of this concept was illustrated in a test conducted by my firm for one of our clients. The organization was favorably noted in an article in a well-known national magazine, which named the organization one of the most effective charities in the country. We developed a small insert that referenced the endorsement, and then tested it as a new component within that organization’s donor-acquisition control package.
The inclusion of this simple insert dramatically boosted results. This positive outcome led to other tests: A quote from the magazine was included in the letter, and a teaser that announced the favorable rating was placed on the envelope. Each test further increased response.
And this isn’t an isolated case. Many examples of similar tests with other organizations also have proved to be successful. Organizations that have received favorable comments by publications or efficiency ratings from nonprofit watchdog groups have used these flattering reviews to their benefit. Simple charts that illustrate the fiscal efficiency of an organization have proven successful, as well.
Ironically, the success of these tests also proves my original point that there’s a level of major skepticism on the part of at least some donors. Otherwise, why else would there be such a favorable response to efforts to tout efficiency? This must mean that they suspect many nonprofit organizations are not efficient.
To figure out how to reassure your donors and potential supporters about your organization’s efficiency, ask yourself the following questions: Does my organization spend a majority of its funds on its mission versus administration and fundraising? Have watchdog groups given my organization good ratings? Have any magazines, newspapers or other publications given us good reviews?
If you have a positive response to any of these questions, then you need to convey this information to your donor audience. You’ll be rewarded for the effort.
Jim Hussey is president of Adams Hussey & Associates. Contact: email@example.com.