"Why do I get so much fundraising mail?"
If you are in my position as a development professional, you sometimes get that call (or letter) from a donor that starts with, "Why do you send me so many requests for support?" Obviously, if it's "so much" it must be "more than I want." I usually get right to the point - how often would you like to hear from us? Would you rather join our sustainer program? (A sustaining donor is one that gives automatically each month without the regular request.)
In short, the question rarely gets answered.
So, here's the answer: Donors are compulsive and generous. When you ask, they give.
We did a recent test (over a 6-month period) to determine what people would do if we sent donors less mail. It was eye-opening. We worked under the assumption that if you did what people said they wanted - sent them less mail - then they would feel less burdened, less put upon and therefore, more gracious and generous. Unfortunately, not true!
In late 2011, we did a random test with 20,000 donors. We cut their mail in half. Just sent them an occasional request - our best actually - the one's that get the highest response and we cut the ones that were less effective. Over a six month period, the same 20,000 people gave less money over the same period one year earlier. Overall, we saw a 30% increase in support year-over-year in mail solicitations, but the test group not only did not keep up with most, their support declined.
People gave more when they received more requests.
That said, it doesn't have to be that way. Frankly, it doesn't serve donors and it doesn't serve organizations.
My wife and I are donors to quite a few organizations we really care about, and we give the same amount (or more) to those organizations each year regardless of how much mail they send us. And since I am cost conscious, care about these organizations and want them to apply as much of my money to programs and less to sending me mail, I do a few things - and I recommend that others do the same:
1) Make a giving (or philanthropy) plan. My wife and I talk about our giving priorities and what and who to give to. This is a great start. It identifies what kind of impact you want your giving to have and identifies those who can help you achieve it. Sometimes it means going out and doing your homework, as there are some tremendous "diamonds in the rough" organizations that are having huge impact but are less known. It doesn't take as much time as you think, and it is a sound investment. So, do your homework and make a plan.
2) Let the organizations you give to know your giving preference. Some organizations we give a monthly gift (sustainer support) and we ask them to take funds out of our account or credit card each month. Others, we ask them to send us one solicitation a year and we tell them what month to send it. Others (those we don't give to) we call and ask them to take us off their list - they are wasting their time and resources. Believe me, organizations appreciate it.
3) Do what you said you were going to do. Data will tell you that what people "say" and what people "do" are very different things. It is true. So, when you get your request - respond! If you are just asking them to send you one request a year and have no intention of giving to that organization, the data will again prove that more mail works. Don't do it. Tell organizations what you intend to do and then do it. And if you change your mind, no problem. Just let them know. Again they will appreciate it.
Be a little more proactive in your philanthropy. Heaven knows, we can all save ourselves a lot of mail and quite a few trees at the same time.
You can follow David on Twitter at @Whitehead_Dave.
Photo credit: sam saturday !