Fundraisers: Don’t Get Burned by Streaky Strategy

Updated July 24, 2019

It’s that time of year again in Arizona. The time of year when even at 7 a.m., it’s more or less 100 degrees.

Natives and those of us who’ve been here awhile know that this is no time to go out for a jaunty, midday hike. We also know that sunscreen is a must.

Which brings me to fundraising strategy: Are you the kind of person who buys the cheap stuff and has to reapply it over and over? Or do you invest in quality – saving you time and accidental sunburn in the long run? 

Option 1: The Cheap Stuff

Research suggests that a fair number of fundraisers today are doing it the cheap, time-consuming way. They’re relying on email to get to their fundraising goals.

How many emails do they send annually? The M+R Benchmarks Study reports that the average in 2018 was 59 emails per subscriber — more than one a week — with 25 of those containing fundraising messages.

How are donors reacting to this? Average response rates to fundraising emails declined by 13 percent to end up at 0.06 percent. That’s a ZERO point ZERO SIX response rate. Blackbaud reports an even smaller number: 0.04. 

And for every 1,000 fundraising messages sent, nonprofits raised $45. That’s not a lot of cash for life-changing programs.

But we understand the logic. It goes like this: “It doesn’t cost us anything to send email and we get a little something back.” 

My dear friends, there IS a cost. First up is your time and energy. It’s precious. Stop giving it away for 0.06 percent! 

Instead of composing emails, you could be converting more of your donors to monthly givers or thanking a major donor. Or, if your junior level person does email, they could be learning a more lucrative fundraising skill like direct mail.

The second cost is your donors’ patience. Put yourself in their shoes. Do you want to get 59 emails a year from every nonprofit you support?  

On average, donors give to just over four charities a year. That’s 236 nonprofit emails per year. Unless you’re a heck of a subject line writer, your email is not going to break through the clutter in people’s inboxes. 

Email is fine for brand awareness, but it’s not a great strategy on its own for making money. 

So let’s turn to the next option …  

Option 2: The Good Stuff

We get it. No one wants to buy the pricey sunscreen. But it’s an investment that pays long-term dividends in healthy, youthful-looking skin.

The same thing goes with direct mail. According to the Data and Marketing Association, average response rates to nonprofit mail were 5.35 percent. That’s to your list of existing donors, by far your best prospects.

That’s FIVE point THREE FIVE. If this was sunscreen, would you like to go all day to the beach wearing SPF 0.06 or SPF 5.35? 

It’s true. You have to be willing to spend a little money to make this money. And you have to put in some time upfront to understand how direct mail works. But it’s time that pays off in the long run, just like buying the good sunscreen. 

Now do you have that board member? You know the one who complains he or she receives too many fundraising letters?

Most of us do. Well, if that person is serious about their “fiduciary responsibility” to your nonprofit, they’ll invest in direct mail.

But you certainly can’t afford to mail people 25 times a year, like some nonprofits do with fundraising email.

Direct response copywriter Alan Sharpe suggests mailing your donors at least eight times a year. Fundraising expert Tom Ahern cites a test in which a fundraiser found that donations finally drop off when you hit 21 mailings a year! 

So somewhere between 8 and 21 is your sweet spot, say the experts. Just make sure that you’re varying your content and mail formats, and giving donors more choices about how they want to engage with your nonprofit.

Bottom line: Direct mail is the right strategy for raising revenue, especially when Blackbaud reports that the average donor is age 62 and Merrill Lynch reminds us that Boomers are just getting started with their charitable giving. 

How much are Boomers estimated to give to charity over the next two decades? $6.6 trillion

Option 3: The Absolute Best Stuff

In marketing, we work hard to find the right promotional mix. How do we best integrate traditional and digital tactics to get a multiplier effect – a better response rate than any single tactic could achieve on its own? 

This is especially important in fundraising because it lets donors choose how they want to give, not how we want them to give. 

A donor can receive a direct mail piece and then give online. Or more likely, get an email that that reminds them to read and respond to that letter from their favorite charity sitting on the kitchen counter.

Mobile Cause suggests that when direct mail and email work together, the average response rate is 27 percent. That’s nearly ONE in THREE donors. Add an amazing landing page and it soars to 37 percent.  

Why would you expend time and energy sending 25 fundraising emails a year at a .06 percent response when you could be getting a 37 percent response rate? That’s the good sunscreen, some designer shades, and the perfect Pina Colada all in one.

We can’t tell you what the right mix is for you, that is, without some testing and digging into your database.

But we can tell you that, chances are, you’re not using direct mail as much as you should, and you’re not integrating it enough with your digital tactics. 

Stop getting burned. Check out Beezable, our DIY direct mail tool. It helps fundraisers at all skill levels create, print, and send direct mail in minutes.