Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Counter intuitive ideas

I am blogging live from Pareto Fundraising with Jeff Brooks of Future Fundraising Now fame presenting fundraising ideas to our staff. We are discussing donor retention for mail and email appeals. One advantage Jeff has over us is that his clients have much, much bigger data files so he is able to get more testing done.

Testing is great because lots of best practice fundraising is counter intuitive. For example, longer letters tend to work better, more frequent mailings asking for money increase retention and total lifetime giving, calling people at dinner time and asking them to upgrade their monthly gift works.

If you were to ask donors, in advance - perhaps in a focus group - about the tactics above they would suggest that these tactics won't work. But they do.

So here is a new counter intuitive idea that he says works, and we don't do here.

With the volumes of data available to him, he has been able to test the use of thank you letters as asking delivery mechanisms. This is not done by charities in Australia, and Penelope Burke who wrote Thanks! advises against it. But, according to Jeff, her research is based on opinion through surveys etc. He, however, has tested it on data and over many years has found that it does not increase attrition, but does increase income by 10-15%.

So, if you may appeals and ask for money here are some tips.

1) If you send more than one wave, do not remove donors who give to wave 1 from the subsequent waves. You are reducing your income now and in the future.

2) Test including an additional ask in the actual thank you letter. For example, a tear off option on the thank you letter, or a self mailer envelope. Always include a return envelope.

We have seen some recent success in sending a regular giving ask with thank you letters to newly acquired donors based on an American idea, so this cash ask approach seems an obvious thing to test, even it if feels wrong.  More forward thinking charities could try testing a regular giving self mailer or 'pack' which goes out with all thank yous to non-regular givers, not just new donors.

If you try it in the future, or already have - please let me know the outcome!


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