Jeff Brooks from Donor Power Blog just posted his newest monthly column for Fundraising Success, What Goes On In The Mailbox? Jeff lists all the things that can go wrong from when your fundraising letter leaves your hands to when it reaches its, um, eternal resting place. Among the potential pitfalls:
- The nondeliverability rate
- The ignore rate
- The instant death rate
- The not-this-time rate
- The think-about-it rate
- The malfunction rate
Surprisingly, though, Jeff leaves off what has to be indisputably the single-most significant response rate inhibitor of them all:
- The ‘when I gave that gift to your organization two years ago I had absolutely zero intention of signing up to be consigned to your mailing list purgatory’ rate
Somewhere in the history of fundraising, we made a questionable determination; namely, that when someone gave us a gift, he or she was utilizing that gift to signal an openness to future solicitation by our organization.
He or she was, in other words, ‘interested’, which, translated into traditional fundraising language, means ‘more likely than someone in the general public not to trash the appeal letters we send him or her in the future’.
And, granted, this approach makes perfect sense in traditional direct mail fundraising, where he who accumulates the largest list of these ‘interested’ folks typically stays in business longer than he who does not. In this approach, one can conveniently overlook the rate that I’ve suggested is overwhelmingly relevant and instead focus on doing the best one can to improve one’s odds on the rates Jeff has suggested in his article.
But what if the future of fundraising doesn’t belong to those who play the percentages best? What if those with the largest ‘donor files’ don’t automatically win in the future?
(I realize that by posing this question I may fall into Jeff’s category of ‘young and inexperienced’, and yet sadly I can’t even offer that as a defense. I’m still repenting for all the trees that I transformed into clever direct mail solicitations during my time at the Los Angeles Mission and as a VP at the Russ Reid Company.)
What I know is this: When I took off my traditional direct mail beanie (complete with analytics propellor), I came to a common-sense conclusion:
- If I send a letter to friends who are passionate about the same cause as I am, and 90% of them throw the letter away, either (1) I am confused to who my friends are, or (2) our relationship is not truly grounded on shared commitment to the cause, or (3, and most likely) I’m sending them a letter that they did not want and that is not an answer to any question they were asking, and thus it deserves to be overlooked.
Jeff notes in his post that ‘there is just a lot going on in everybody’s mailbox all the time’, but have you ever in your life had so much going on in your mailbox that you overlooked a letter from a dear friend or a package that you ordered or a piece of information you requested? Don’t you actually keep an eye out for those day after day until they arrive?
Even in traditional email and online fundraising, opt-in rules the day. It ought to be no less so when it comes to traditional direct mail. Informed consent is the price of entry these days, no matter what the medium.
And when it comes to coaching champions and Transformational Giving, mail has a cherished place (though we can certainly leave off the “direct”). But the strategy is not one of strategic interruption for the purpose of solicitation. It’s not even a clever strategy.
It’s a simple strategy of only sending things through the mail that cause the champion to say, ‘Oh, I’ve been expecting that. Because I asked them to send that to me. And I’m glad they sent it because I will find it very helpful. And I look forward to sharing this with others I know who I think would also be interested in this cause.’
Sound young and inexperienced? Then I would hate to see your email inbox or your RSS feed!