Stealing Back Your Major Donors

November 7, 2012       Patrick Sullivan      

There are bound to be some donors in your donor file that give major gifts to other organizations. The trick is identifying them and getting them to make major gifts to your organization. A panel during the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation’s 2012 New York Conference showed attendees how to do just that.

“Would you treat one of your $100 donors differently if you knew they’d given $100,000 to another charity?,” asked presenter Max Bunch, senior vice president of consulting and client service for Richardson, Texas-based Stratmark.

Kim Carter, direct mail manager for the American Bible Society (ABS) in New York City, decided she wanted to tease out major donors during ABS’s Bibles for China initiative. It was “one of our main new donor acquisition offers and a great place to test upgrading to major donations,” said Carter.

First, ABS matched publicly available data on giving outside of ABS to its donors. About 10 percent of ABS’s donor file had made a major donation to another organization. The next step was to identify donors in the file who demographically looked like that 10 percent.

Carter ended up with about 7,000 names with which to work. She divided the list into two groups. The first would receive the traditional direct mail package with an ask array of largest gift, 1.5 times the largest gift and twice the largest gift. The second would receive a stretch offer. A roll of paper costs $600 and makes 600 bibles, so the test array had handles of $100, $200, $300 and $600.

“A significant gift requires a significant package,” said Carter, and the test package was a 9×12 envelope with a two-page proposal and a personalized portfolio with a page from a Chinese bible, suitable for framing. The control was an appeal in a standard window envelope that was less engaging but less expensive.

“The stretch offer was meaningful and tangible,” said Bunch. In all, 90 donors gave $600, 45 gave $1,000, four gave $5,000 and one donor, on file for more than two decades and who had once lapsed for 10 years, gave $50,000.

Bunch and Carter identified a number of common mistakes when trying to substantially upgrade donors.

  • Don’t pluck donors out of the normal communication stream. Do it on a periodic basis.
  • Don’t try to upgrade donors too quickly. Asking $50 donors for $1,000 right off the bat will get you nowhere. “Stair step the process” with a smaller stretch offer, said Bunch.
  • Don’t spend too much money per package. Go slow and test to make sure it’s worth the investment.
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