One of the questions that I often get from young fund raisers working in direct marketing is ‘how often should I mail my donors?’ This is an interesting question, and you can get a different answer every time you ask a different person. I will throw my perspective into the fray, and I hope that you find it beneficial. The answer reminds me of skiing. Allow me to explain.
Since the early 80’s, I have only regularly participated in team sports. Softball, soccer, basketball – you get the picture. I made a commitment in 2013 to be more open-minded and try new things. A friend offered to teach me to ski, so I reminded myself of my personal pledge and agreed to try it. I will spare you the details of how many small children I nearly ran over. The thing that reminds me of fund raising is the concept of the ‘snow plow.’ For those of you who do not ski, the ‘snow plow’ is when you turn your ankles in such a way that you create a ‘snow plow’ effect in the snow, which enables you to control your speed. See the photo below. As a basketball and soccer player, I have spent decades trying to prevent my ankles from turning in or out. In learning to ski, I had to train my ankles to do just the opposite. In other words, I had to do something that felt the opposite of natural.
Getting back to Direct Marketing, to succeed you have to be willing to do something that seems the opposite of natural. Development professionals from organizations who mail their file twice a year are often horrified to hear that there are organizations who mail 12 or more times a year. They cannot imagine mailing their donors that often. It feels the opposite of natural.
Keep in mind that the answer to this question of frequency depends on your organization and depends on your donors. And I would not recommend that you go from 3 annual mailings to 10 annual pieces overnight. A more gradual increase would likely be better received. It is possible to ‘over mail’, but many small organizations are nowhere near that threshold.
Also remember that there are different types of mailing in the mix. For example, you can send 4 appeals, 1 per quarter. Add in 3-4 newsletters each year to keep donors up to date. Many organizations send an Annual Report. Also, there is the invitation to your auction / gala. Right there you have 10 mailings. Some are a direct solicitation, others are more passive. The strategy serves to keep your organization top-of-mind and leads to more donor engagement and ultimately more revenue.
Your organization has some donors who will literally send a check every time you ask. Other donors are only going to give in December no matter how many times you mail them. It is important to know your donors. Listen to them. The ones who indicate that you are ‘over mailing’ them should have their frequency reduced. Find out if they would prefer to be approached via email, phone, or personal visit. This is where having a good database system will be critical. Honoring donors’ wishes will help you improve your relationship with them and cause them to feel that their voice is being heard, and that they are important.
It is also critical that you analyze your data regularly. If you do not get negative feedback from a donor but you notice that for the past 5 years they have only given their annual gift in May, you might want to save money by NOT mailing them in October. This can create considerable savings as you observe and respond to giving patterns for groups of donors.
As development professionals, it is important that we build good rapport with donors. Mailing them often can make us feel like we are ‘bothering’ them. Keep in mind that we are helping donors accomplish their philanthropic goals. They want to give and we are facilitating it. So be careful about being too timid. To be successful in this work requires that we do things that seem the opposite of natural. So add that 4th annual mailing and see what happens.
I’ll see you on the slopes this winter. I’ll be the one ‘snow plowing’ from the top of the chair lift to the bottom of the hill.