Donor Love: 5 Things to Do (and 1 Definitely Not to Do), According to Shakespeare
In Shakespeare’s famous play, “Othello,” the main guy is Othello, naturally. And he’s notorious for, among other things, saying that he “loved not wisely but too well.”
Not wisely, huh? That’s an understatement. This is the guy who just killed his wife, Desdemona, in a jealous rage. He smothered her in her sleep. So, sure — “not wisely.” In his defense, he was tricked into thinking Desdemona was unfaithful, but still. Anyway, lots of other people get killed, and he ends up killing himself. It turns into a whole big crazy thing.
The important part in all this is, when it comes to your fundraising, don’t be like Othello. He loved “not wisely.” You should do the opposite. Love your donors wisely. And you do that by mailing and emailing them not necessarily more but smarter. Here’s what to do.
1. Listen to Your Donors About Mailing Frequency
If a donor complains about too much mail, you should listen and respond, of course. You want to be responsive to your donors’ feedback, and there some things you can do with a “too much mail” complaint. You can reduce the mailings to the number that your donor prefers. You can invite your donor into your monthly sustainer program, so she can continue her support but get fewer mailings over the year. You can find out which communication channels your donor prefers. Maybe she hates getting mail but likes email. It all depends. What’s important is finding the right balance between accommodating your donors’ preferences while getting your fundraising message out.
But mailing smarter doesn’t necessarily mean paring your mail and email lists down to the bone because you’re afraid donors will complain. That’s how to shrink your list into oblivion.
Assuming that your donor communications are donor centric, relevant, and structured around a compelling offer, you can safely figure that your donors want to receive your appeals. Too many nonprofits make the mistake of acting like their fundraising is an intrusion in their donors’ lives. Not true. Your donors want to hear from you. It only makes sense. Your nonprofit must be doing something your donors like, or they wouldn’t be donors in the first place.
Not only that, you want to have a relationship with your donors, and it’s pretty hard to build a relationship with someone who only contacts you once or twice a year. So, stay in touch with your donors. In general, you can mail your house-file donors about every month. That’s not too often.
Even with the most tightly curated list, though, not every donor is going to respond to every appeal, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear what you have to say. So don’t be afraid to keep in touch with them. When you do, you’ll build a broader base of support.
2. Think Before You Reflexively Mail to Low-Dollar Donors
Just because a particular donor is on your list doesn’t necessarily mean she should get every appeal. The cost of mailing lower-dollar donors will often exceed the payback. But you don’t have to cut them off entirely — after all, they do support your cause. You just mail them less often. You can make sure these donors get your best-performing appeals, like your holiday appeal, for example, while excluding them from some other appeals during the year. This way, you keep them engaged while keeping your costs low.
3. Pay More Attention to Higher-Dollar Donors
Your appeals to higher-dollar donors can be more elaborate in their production values, because for these donors, a bigger package with, say, a 9x12” envelope, nicer paper, a longer letter and other upmarket components will probably generate a higher average gift.
But don’t make the mistake of larding the appeal with extras just for the sake of adding things in. That only dilutes the message. Remember, for high-dollar donors, often the best premium is information. They want to feel like they’re insiders, closely aligned with your mission and operations. So, reports, updates and the like are all generally good for these donors. It’s not necessary to go overboard in the graphic presentation. These things don’t have to look like an annual report from a Wall Street investment firm, but they should be a cut above in their production values. Higher-dollar donors generally expect it.
4. Mail Selectively to Lapsed Donors
According to Bloomerang, a main reason donors lapse is that they can no longer afford to give. The best donor reactivation program in the world isn’t going to get around that.
So, you just have to let some donors go. Take, for example, lower-dollar, longer-lapsed donors. Even if you could reactivate them, it’s not going to pay. Their lifetime value is simply too low. So it’s best just to stop mailing them.
But this isn’t always the case with higher-dollar donors. It would make sense to try to reactivate these donors, since they will not only tend to give more but will also tend to give for longer periods of time. So your investment in reactivation will pay off.
5. Pare Down Your Mailings During Your Slow Period
For most nonprofits, giving tends to drop off during the spring or the summer. Your data will tell you. You can try mailing less overall during that period. You can try mailing only to your best donors during that period. You can test a portion of your file by mailing less. There are lots of ways to reduce the number of appeals during this time without drastically affecting overall revenue.
These are just some of the ways to keep your donors engaged while mailing smarter and not messing up your whole fundraising year. It’s a good thing to think about this sooner rather than later. That way, you can finish your fundraising year strong, with lower mailing costs and higher revenue. Because as the Immortal Bard says, “All’s well that ends well.”
An agency-trained, award-winning, freelance fundraising copywriter and consultant with years of on-the-ground experience, George specializes in crafting direct mail appeals, online appeals and other communications that move donors to give. He serves major nonprofits with projects ranging from specialized appeals for mid-level and high-dollar donors, to integrated, multichannel campaigns, to appeals for acquisition, reactivation and cultivation.