How Much Asking is Too Much?
To hear some fundraisers talk, you might think donors are so fragile they have to be handled with exaggerated care lest they disappear in a puff of acrid smoke.
To avoid that, you walk around on tiptoes, not daring to speak to them too often (or too emphatically) because they might “burn out.”
Conventional fundraising wisdom has it that donors’ gifts are a limited resource, like an old-growth forest: Ask too often without substantial “resting” periods, and you can “overharvest” — you’ve chopped down all the trees quicker than new ones can grow.
Sounds plausible, but it’s wrong. In fact, the donor-burnout myth is one of the most harmful forces in our industry.
The limited-resource view of fundraising is based on a fundamentally unrealistic view of human nature. If you want a more realistic approach, don’t think of fundraising as a kind of removing; instead, think of it as a kind of cultivating. When you motivate a donor to give, you haven’t taken a tree out of a forest that needs time to regrow. It’s more like you’ve pruned a rose bush, encouraging more and better growth.
While a $50 gift does indeed take $50 out of the donor’s bank account, the donor ends up richer, not poorer, for the transaction — because this transaction involves much more than just money. (Ask people who choose poverty or a monastic life for spiritual reasons if they think giving things away leaves you richer or poorer.)
Giving feels good. When someone gives, they usually want to give again.
That’s why the No. 1 predictor of a donor’s likeliness to give is the recency of her last gift.
Your own data supports this: The response rate of donors whose previous gift was six months ago is twice as high as those whose previous gift was 12 months ago. And among donors who haven’t given for two years, the response rate drops to less than half what it is for those who last gave 12 months ago.