How Seasonal is Fundraising Really?

As the mercury rises, expectations among fundraisers drop. How can summer appeals compete with all the distractions in your donors’ lives? It’s natural to compensate by setting modest targets and saving your best stories for the fall appeal season when you’ll have everyone’s undivided attention.

But there’s a problem with this way of thinking. Are we making fundraising more seasonal than it actually is? Some nonprofits we work with bring their strongest cases to their supporters throughout the year. They don’t see a dip in July. Their supporters are supposed to be on the beach, but their checks keep flowing in.

Aside from obvious sweet spots like calendar year-end (which is more about deductions than distractions), success ultimately comes down to the value of your message, not when you deliver it. If you have something really compelling to say to your donors, would they ignore you?

We urge you to look again at how you adjust for seasonality in your planning. Test the notion that what you say is more important than when you say it. Find out if the right case for support still resonates during ‘noisy’ periods like summer vacation time, Thanksgiving or, come to think of it, general elections. In our experience, people who care deeply about your cause are always going to listen if your message interests them. It might just brighten up their summer. And yours.

Are you pricing out your prospects?

We love getting acquisition mail from all kinds of nonprofit organizations. We study their packages, read their letters and—occasionally—see a few red flags.

One troubling development concerns how much fundraisers are asking prospects for their first ever gift. These individuals have zero relationship with the organizations asking them for money. And yet, we’re noticing that gift prompt amounts are on the rise so we want to pass on one of Chris Dann’s favorite aphorisms: “All giving is voluntary.”

Donors decide your value. Always have, always will. The moment you start to insert your own opinions and instincts, you risk undermining your finely crafted case for support. So how do you put a price on what you do?

No prizes for guessing the answer. You do it through testing. Followed by more testing. First, make sure that everyone agrees and supports the campaign goals with respect to both donors acquired and investment made. Next, align the strategy accordingly. And finally, crunch the numbers from previous prospecting campaigns and similar audiences until a clear picture emerges of a donation amount the market will bear.

Don’t stop there. Why not use the acquisition mailing to test a range of gift amounts or “ask strings” to further refine your understanding? This way, you’re always learning about your donors and making future success more likely.

Even when the data tells you an amount that is uncomfortably low, don’t worry about devaluing your brand. If you’re persuasive about your cause, your prospects are likely to give more than you ask. Sometimes, a lot more.

There’s a place for intuition and strong opinions in fundraising. Just not when you’re figuring out gift amounts. The only people worth listening to are your donors.


The Lost Art of Match Back

There are many ways to explain a declining response rate with new donor acquisition campaigns. More competition, poor quality names, lower list volumes to name just three. But there’s one growing cause that fundraisers are overlooking or just plain forgetting.

It’s when someone responds to your mailer online or through other non-mail channels. You know, when they ignore your unique URL in the package and go straight to your website. All too often, these donations are claimed by the response channel, which distorts the picture and undervalues the mail campaign.

If other channels get the credit for new donors recruited in the mail, you end up making bad assumptions and invest in the wrong programs. It’s a shame to see organizations gut perfectly successful mail acquisition programs, because it puts the health and stability of the entire donor base at risk.

Bottom line, strategic decisions suffer when analytics don’t support fundraising.  And those analytics specific to acquisition must include a way to match back to the original source. This simple step gives you a more accurate assessment of campaign performance, strategy tests and above all list response.

So write this in big letters on your office wall: “Always Match Back!” The cost is nominal, but the impact on future donor acquisition planning is massive. Just ask one of our clients who uncovered this hidden lode of responses from their fall acquisition.