The Don’t Ask — Tell! Approach to Fundraising
You’ve probably heard -- ad nauseum -- about the importance of mailings that directly generate income. However, what many people aren’t spending enough time discussing are mailings that I’ll simply refer to as “informational” (versus transactional).
Examples of these types of mailings include newsletters or magazines that are sent to a certain category of donors or members. How important are they? I can recall one year in which an organization failed to send anything to its members, resulting in a 25 percent decline in its renewal rate. This is a good example of what can happen if members are not kept informed of what’s going on with your nonprofit - and, more specifically, what’s being accomplished with their donations.
It wouldn’t be prudent to project exactly how much your renewal rates will improve by mailing, for example, anywhere from one to four purely informational pieces in a given year. But, I can tell you from experience that the more often you communicate pertinent information to your donors, the better your renewal results will be.
One of the more often overlooked informational mailing strategies is acknowledgement. Donors overwhelmingly tell us in focus groups that the reason they give their money away is “because it makes me feel so good!” Nonprofits can and should tap into that wellspring of desire, thus reinforcing the donor’s decision to send you money.
An organization in Canada conducted a study following a particular mailing in which the charity divided donors into two distinct groups: one that had been thanked (either in writing or through a phone call) and one that had not. When the next mailing dropped, members of the first group outperformed the second group in terms of overall giving by a dramatic 36 percent.
If you are sending written acknowledgements, there obviously will be an expense for preparation and distribution of the letter. This form of correspondence cannot be measured against traditional appeals in which you derive direct revenue from the mailing. Instead, a thank-you effectively solidifies the relationship between you and your donor. The appropriate measurement yardstick is retention rates, which can improve substantially with a dedicated donor-appreciation program.
To defray some of the costs for acknowledgement mailings, you might want to consider the following:
1. Insert a reply envelope (without a gift request);
2. Include a reply card for people who wish to receive additional information about a particular project or program emphasis you have;
3. Remind members or donors about the benefits of wills, bequests and year-end gifts. All of these ways are unobtrusive - and effective.
Yet another example of a “non-ask” communications strategy is to engage the media - through tools such as press releases and radio public service announcements. These can be particularly effective when integrated with a traditional prospecting appeal. The executive director (or designated spokesperson) can use the media tools to help the general public understand a particular organizational need and how it impacts the surrounding community. Such a move not only adds emphasis and credibility to the mailing, it also builds a stronger bond between the nonprofit and its key constituents.
I recognize some of these strategies may seem out of reach for cash-strapped organizations whose financial pro formas are built almost exclusively on mailings that directly generate income. However, when you view things from a long-term perspective - and I’ve had the opportunity to do so -- the expense is miniscule compared to the indirect income that can be generated.
Claude Grizzard, Sr. is the recently retired chairman of the direct-marketing firm Grizzard, which has primary offices in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, and Lincoln, Neb. For information, go to http://www.grizzard.com.