My family was standing around the kitchen table, which was covered with mail. My mother picked up one envelope as if it were a holy object. She handed it to me.
It was my college acceptance letter to Yale.
I was a high-school senior, and here I was, not only going to be among the first generation in my family to go to college, but accepted to an Ivy League school. I had also applied to Princeton (which turned me down), Boston University (accepted me), and three local universities in my home town of Pittsburgh. But Yale was my top choice.
I was smug. I made a great show of reading the Yale acceptance letter: once, twice. I folded it and looked up. “Well,” I said, “I guess we could have just applied to the one place, and saved all those other application fees.”
My mother nearly chased me out of the room!
Do you ever get that same feeling: that you could send out fewer letters and raise just as much money for your nonprofit? Does that feeling make sense? Or is it just like the immature way a high school senior thinks?
To answer, let’s look at what donors actually do with your mail.
One Donor’s Perspective on the Mail
I am not your typical donor. I saved all the fundraising appeals that my wife and I received in the first ten months of 2022, from January through October. There were 122 pieces of mail. A dozen a month. One every few days, from over 50 different organizations.
By far, the most typical number of mailings any organization sent was either 1 or 2. on the other hand, there were half a dozen organizations that mailed to us 5 or 6 times, or even more. Planned Parenthood alone sent 16 appeals, plus 2 newsletters!
So, you are wondering, do the Fischmans give to the groups that mail them most often or the ones that mail least often?
The answer is yes. We give to both.
What makes us give?
Looking at our donations over time, the number of mailings has no correlation at all with whether or not we gave, nor how much. It seems as if we give to groups that:
- Express our values. Progressive and Jewish groups are high on the list.
- Represent people we care about. Immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, low-income people…we know these folks, or are related to them, or have been there ourselves.
- Have a local connection. We give to Greater Boston PFLAG over and above donations to national groups like GLSEN or the Task Force.
- Are run by people we know. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, I’m looking at you!
- Employed us or were our clients.
Now, this is 65-year-old donor behavior, not 35-year-old. Our family has had decades of donations to decide on already. For the most part, we go down our list and give to a lot of the same groups each year, adding some that have caught our attention.
Rarely do we drop a nonprofit from our list–whether they mail us once or sixteen times!
Is More Mail Better? Your Donors May Vary
If all donors were like Rona and me, sending one or two letters during the first ten months of the year would be ideal. But they’re not.
You can’t judge your donors by us–or by your own pattern of giving. Just as your board is not your audience when you communicate, you and the insiders at your organization are no indication of what your donors actually need, in order to become loyal donors.
The research says that most nonprofits (especially small nonprofits) do not ask often enough. Once a year is pitiful. Twice a year is leaving money on the table. It’s worthwhile for most nonprofits to send out appeal letters three or four times a year.
Those appeal letters should not be your only communications! Whether it’s by email, social media, text, phone, or in person, you should be thanking your donors and sharing valuable information and compelling stories all the time. 80% of your communications should be providing value to your supporters. 10% of them should ask your supporters for time. That will set up the remaining 10%, when you ask for money, to succeed.
But would your nonprofit be better off with three, four, or sixteen letters? It all depends on:
- Your audience
- Your budget
- The amount you need to raise
- The staff you can devote to fundraising and communications
At least, try adding ONE MORE fundraising appeal next year and see what happens.
It’s worth the “application fees.” And who knows, your extra fundraising letter might be just the one you need!