Short-term Thinking is Getting Us Into Trouble
I read recently that there is no upper limit to how many email solicitations you should send (to the same addressee.) As a recipient of these emails, I vehemently disagree. Do a quick exercise. Think of yourself as a donor — doesn’t matter how much money you have — and think about the email solicitations you receive. If someone wants to sell you something (or get you to give them a donation), at what point do you either (a) become furious or (b) unsubscribe? When you do either of those, do you remember the name of the organization/business that was emailing you?
For me, at the point when I take the action to unsubscribe or get angry, which almost always leads to “opt-out”, I can distinctly remember the name of that nonprofit. As I go on giving to various organizations or get invitations to events, just seeing the name of that nonprofit will instantly evoke that memory of feeling “bullied”.
I understand that donations are the lifeblood of nonprofits. I also understand that email solicitations, in certain categories, are effective.
What I don’t understand is why a nonprofit is willing to solicit me over and over again — until the point when I think of that organization’s name with disgust. Sometimes I feel badly about this, but only for a second. I know that the organizations that I give to are more interested in a relationship with me than in bullying me with more and more pushes to give. If a nonprofit doesn’t want to have a relationship with their donors (or they only want relationships with major donors), then I won’t be giving to them — ever.
Hmmm…if only we knew how our donors felt about receiving frequent emails asking for money. (Of course you absolutely can get that information, but you need to ask the donor.) If you don’t feel that you have (or want to dedicate) the resources to ask your donors, then, by all means, continue pushing the email bombardments and accept the consequences.
In addition, we tend to ignore the research that tells us that today’s donors want to know the impact of their giving.
If we accept that donors want to know about impact, why can’t we provide quick and easy impact reports — even if they’re comprised of a quick text or email — about some accomplishment? If every email sent has to have an immediate and specific ROI attached to it, then you won’t be able to send those quick “impact announcements”.
Do you think that donors are more willing to give when they receive emails with big letters in a bright color saying “give now!” Maybe, but if all the communication (of any kind) between your organization and a donor is either an in-your-face solicitation or an acknowledgment “for tax purposes”, donors won’t stick with you for the long term.
Don’t get me wrong — you should absolutely offer an easy way for a donor to donate whenever appropriate. If you balance your email solicitations with “updates” and “impact reports” and then include a small (read: NOT in your face) ask for a donation, your donors are much more likely to keep giving, as they’ll get a “warm and fuzzy” feeling from your interaction.
Unfortunately, many nonprofits have no time for these changes, especially when many of these emails are targeting smaller donors. Immediate gratification — meeting those numbers now, seems to often be the standard way of working.
So we often find ourselves surprised when we see new research that shows donations and numbers of donors decreasing (or staying flat). Why is it so difficult to make a connection between those statistics and the mechanisms (some) nonprofits use to raise funds? Is it because the folks who do the email campaigns are different than the “relationship” people, and different again from senior management?
I know, I know — email solicitations work, so we’ll continue them, right? But the numbers — study after study — tell us that doing the same thing again and again, in the same way, leads to even fewer resources to run our organizations.
And then there’s the relationship part. I keep hearing that resources are such that relationships can only be made (if they’re to be made at all) with major donors.
That’s a problem! Many, if not most, major donors were previously small donors or medium-sized donors. If they get annoyed with your organization, the size of their donation won’t matter, because they will stop giving to you altogether. Permanently.
In other words, when a small to medium donor, who’s maybe given to your nonprofit for years, has a “liquidation event” with a company, receives an inheritance, or gets a big bonus, or they do well with an investment, they could become your next “major donor”. But if you’ve neglected to create any kind of relationship with that person (other than appeals), they will use their new wealth to find another organization — even one they’re not given to in the past — to support.
And if donors are pushed relentlessly to give (via email or otherwise), there better be some sort of relationship beginning right after they donate, or they will be part of the 82% of first-time donors who don’t return. Sending an acknowledgment that’s really just a receipt is not the same as a relationship.
If 18% of first-time donors (at all levels, including those you solicit via email), how is that sustainable for a nonprofit? Doesn’t that mean that more and more resources — likely resources that come from the money that donors like me donate — are going to more marketing, more emails, and more relentless badgering?
Just as I don’t want my money going to certain causes, I also don’t want my money going to an organization that will squander the funds via relentless email campaigns. I absolutely think that nonprofits deserve to have the resources they need to do their great work, but throwing money down the drain, when you know that the way you’re raising your money isn’t sustainable, isn’t okay.
As many great thinkers say, look at the numbers, as numbers don’t lie (only 18% of your new donors will give again the next year!) We’re been seeing these trends for years (maybe decades) and yet we’re still doing the same thing, with the same marketing strategies. Hello?
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