Myths And Urban Legends Stall Fundraising Efforts

May 22, 2018       THE NONPROFIT TIMES      

Like a giant game of telephone, a nonprofit professional can hear about the successes or trials of one peer organization, pass that information on to another, and as the story is told and retold what might have been a one-off observation gains life.

An exception to a rule is suddenly a mythological golden rule.

    John Perell, director, direct response and shared services at the Smithsonian Institute; Laura Connors, vice president of membership for the National Parks Conservation Association; and Kerri Kerr, chief operating officer for Avalon Consulting Group, sought to dispel some such myths during their session “Mythbusters!” at the DMA Nonprofit Federation’s 2018 Washington Nonprofit Conference. Among the topics discussed were:

  • You should just do this online, direct mail is dead. In reality, most organizations would be unable to be sustained with online-only fundraising. Direct marketing made up 81.3 percent of organizations’ revenue in 2016 and 85.4 percent in 2017, as compared to a combined 9.9 percent and 11.2 percent, for email and online in those years. Fundraisers should analyze revenue by channel, cross-channel, and new joins per channel in making decisions.
  • Major donors need to be protected from direct mail. Major donors largely stem from direct mail and increase their giving with continued contact such as direct-mail packages. One organization cited by the presenters saw a 40 percent improvement in its direct mail file when leaving major donors in as opposed to segmenting them out;
  • Nobody reads long copy. If the donor is going to skim through your materials, the person will actually be relayed more information with a four-page document than a two-pager. Long copy also implies that your organization is doing more. Try testing long versus short copy in direct-mail and email campaigns;
  • Match-gift campaigns are just a gimmick. Matching gift campaigns, while requiring advanced planning, have become increasingly popular — especially during year-end campaigns and ought to be tested against non-match campaigns. One organization cited by the presenters saw gift increases of 76 percent and 94 percent during two match campaigns;
  • You need to target millennials. Building relationships with young supporters is important but the financial return might be decades away. Most prospects under the age of 40 do not respond well to direct marketing, not because they are unresponsive, but because they lack disposable income; and,
  • Donors need to be contacted less. How often an organization contacts a donor is an important question to answer, but one that can lead to lost revenue and retention. Testing has shown that the donors who generate the most revenue are the ones contacted the most. The sweet-spot for how often donors should be contacted will likely vary by nonprofit and warrants testing.
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