ignore equality to boost fundraising

If you want to improve your net income through direct mail begin by not treating all donors equally. Equality is a fabulous ideal in most of life, but it’s a terrible concept in fundraising (apologies Mr. Lincoln). When we’re brought in to assess direct mail fundraising, one of the classic mistakes we see organizations (and their agencies) making is that they treat all donors equally. It’s a giant blunder that guts net income and reinforces the perception that direct mail fundraising is an unworkable strategy.

Mr. LincolnThere are three classic “equality” mistakes, today we’ll talk about number 1: Ignoring the number of times a donor has given.

This mistake usually crops up in these ways:

1. Treating a donor who has given you a single gift as a donor. They’ve given a gift, often in response to an acquisition strategy but haven’t given since. You’ve invested heavily to get that gift so you need to woo them and cement the relationship–quickly. Often acquisition gifts are driven by impulse and emotion so getting that all important second gift is huge. The more time that passes, the less likely you are to get a second gift.

You really only have about 13 months to get that second gift (and the odds drop fast every day after the first gift). If a donor gives you a gift in response to a Thanksgiving acquisition you probably only have until the end of the next year’s Thanksgiving season to get that second gift. Certainly exceptions apply, but statistically, after the end of that season the next year, you’ve lost your connection and probably lost your best chance.

So what do you do? Every season look back at your file for people whose first gift date is less than 12 months ago. Make sure that you’re messaging to them appropriately. What does that look like? How about, “Last year at this time you helped feed needy people at Thanksgiving. More people are coming to us this year than last year. You could change someone’s life through your gift of…” Connect them with the emotion that drove their gift last year and with the difference THEY made (not you, what they did through you).

2. Mailing single gift donors the same as multi-gift donors. First a couple of definitions: single gift donors are people who have given your organization exactly 1 gift (their first and only gift). Multi-gift donors are people who have given you more than 1 gift (a first gift and then at least one other gift). OK, you’re with me on that. After reading my point #1 above, you know that a single gift donor really isn’t the same as someone who’s given more than one gift. If so, then why do so many organizations mail single gift donors exactly the same as multi-gift donors? Look at your last mailing select. Go ahead. Really, give it a look. First, are you breaking out single-gift donors from multi-gift donors? If you don’t see these groups clearly broken out, you could be treating everyone the same. And if these groups are distinct, are you mailing single-givers differently than multi-gift givers?

We recently saw a situation where an agency was mailing multi-gift donor and single-gift donors EXACTLY the same. That doesn’t make sense, does it? Imagine that I’m a multi-year donor who’s given you 14 gifts over 5 years. I’m a pretty good donor. But even if I haven’t given a gift in 3 years I haven’t forgotten you. For whatever reason, you’ve dropped off my radar. You can still connect with me because we had a relationship. I probably still think we have a relationship. In fact, if you’ll gently let me know that I haven’t given recently, I bet you can reactivate me.

But, if I gave you a single gift 3 years ago and haven’t given since, we don’t have a relationship. I may not even remember your organization or that I gave you a gift. Any direct mail from you is more like acquisition than cultivation. That means that the odds are significantly against you reactivating me as a donor.

So, if I’m a single-gift giver, why would you mail to me with the same frequency (the number of times in a year) and with the same messaging as a multi-gift giver? Of course you wouldn’t. But many times nonprofits are making this mistake.

Stomp out equality in your mailing strategy. Are you treating multi-gift donors and single-gift donors the same? What other ways have you seen “equality” hurt direct mail results? How is your direct mail fundraising doing? Drop us a comment here or on Twitter or even over on our fan page on Facebook. We always want to know what you think.

Don’t forget that this is “Good Job Monday.” Today we’re giving a shout out to one of a bold leader who’s equipping future nonprofit leaders: Deborah Gohrke. Deborah’s an author on leadership, adjunct faculty at Seattle University and revolutionary thinker. Deborah nurtures the dreamer in everyone she encounters. Good Job Deborah!


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(unedited photo credit: Tony the Misfit)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

3 thoughts on “ignore equality to boost fundraising”

  1. OK Mr. Thomas, I’ve got two questions for you based on some conversations I’ve been having with one of our clients:

    1. Nondonors. How much differently do we treat them from single-gift donors?

    2. What if the donor software doesn’t lend itself to easy selecting of multi vs. single donors? What do you recommend then?

  2. Deborah Gohrke

    “Who me?” “A shout out!” She blushed and gushed. I’m lovin’ it…and loving Hoots and Thomas. Thank you.

  3. Deborah Gohrke

    Agree completely. Makes absolutely no sense to treat all donors equally.

    My Dad had a habit of reducing ideas like this one down to well worn sayings around our house when we were growing up. He said, “Who butters your bread, little darling?” Something kind of like, “Who’s your daddy?”

    We are not talking about equality of human worth here – we are talking about the how our survival is linked to our relationships and not all our relationships contribute equally to our survival – emotionally and/or financially. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

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