easiersaidthandone: The Curse of Too Much Mail
The details vary, but every now and then you'll get a message from a donor that goes something like this:
Aliens from the Quador Galaxy are taking over America and trying to socialize my Medicare. Unless you take a public stand against the aliens, I will never send you another donation, and I'll tell all my many friends not to give either!
It's no big deal. You just chalk it up to "it takes all kinds" and go on with your work. After all, as in any group of people, a small number of donors are going to be a bit unhinged. They're entitled to their opinions, but we all know better than to enter their world.
So imagine an organization that responded to an alien-invasion letter like this:
● Apologize to the writer for our lack of attention to this serious matter.
● Launch a media campaign calling attention to our opposition to the invasion.
● Change our fundraising messaging to include the fact that we don't approve of the alien invasion.
You'd probably think the organization was a few clowns short of a circus. Even more so than the letter-writer. Right?
Unfortunately, this scenario isn't as far-fetched as it should be. There's another type of message from donors that's a bit more common than the alien-invasion type of message — but nearly as counterfactual. And this message throws many nonprofits into costly tailspins. I'm talking messages like this:
Stop sending me so much mail! You're annoying me and wasting money! I'll never send you a red cent again!
This message can cause many organizations to spring into action: They apologize profusely (and sometimes publicly) for mailing too much. They slash their mailing schedules, eliminating impacts right and left. They even change their fundraising styles, making them more circumspect and tentative, hinting at need instead of actually asking. The reason organizations might treat these two complainers so differently is this: With the alien-invasion guy, nobody buys the factual premise of the complaint (I hope). But the too-much-mail complainer? She's articulating something many suspect to be true. She's confirming a fear that fundraising eventually alienates not only her but everyone else too.
The truth about too much mail
Here's the good news: There's no factual basis for the belief that sending a lot of mail hurts donors or damages revenue by chasing them away.
Go back and read that sentence again. Because it's the most important thing I have to tell you today.
In fact, every single test and study on this topic that I've been part of (and that's a lot) has shown the opposite to be true: Adding more impacts to your schedule increases revenue and improves donor retention. It's positive in both the short and long term. (There are two small but meaningful exceptions. See sidebar.)
Some donors experience too much mail and react negatively to it. But there are so few, they form a statistically insignificant group. For purposes of analysis and planning, they don't exist. Their complaints should have no more impact on your fundraising program than those of the alien-invasion guys.
The damage you'll do by applying the needs of a few too-much-mail folks to your entire program can be deep and wide. There's the revenue you'll lose in the short term because you asked less. Then there's the long-term damage to your donor file because of falling retention rates.
But here's what should really make your blood run cold: If you accept the premise that your fundraising is annoying, painful, stupid and unwelcome — you will make it so. It's a classic self-fulfilling prophecy, the not-so-well-kept secret of creative work: Your attitude bleeds through onto the paper.
If you believe fundraising is meaningful communication between like-minded people, a beautiful connection between souls who want to work together to change the world — you'll do better work. You'll connect more successfully with more donors. I promise.
I can't prove this, but I believe that the quantity of mail is almost never the real problem, even for those donors who say it is. The real problem isn't too much mail, but too little relevance. The wrong message sent to the wrong people at the wrong time.
Even one piece of dumb, misdirected, irrelevant junk mail is too much. Even one appeal that fails to connect or treat a donor with respect is too much. Even one self-absorbed, look-at-me, brand-cop-driven message is an annoying mailbox-clogger.
But relevant mail is always welcome. It fits into the donor's world. It's about her. It talks about things she cares about. It's relational, real, and makes her feel empowered and connected. Make your fundraising like that, and you'll get fewer too-much-mail complaints — even if you send a lot of mail.
But here's the kicker: You will still get some of those complaints. Because you don't decide what's relevant for your donors. They do.
Keep this in mind: Asking and giving are deeply blessed acts. They are part of what makes us fully realized, conscious, connected, spiritual human beings.
Nearly all your donors want to give to you. They stand with you on your cause. They respect you. They look forward to hearing from you. They want the connection, the power and the joy. Don't deprive your donors of that.
Unless the aliens really are invading. In that case, all bets are off. FS