|The Mail Bag||
|By Stephen Hitchcock|
|Reprinted from Contributions Magazine|
Q: One of my staff recently stumped me with a simple question (I've been in this field for so long I probably take too much for granted now). She was about to draft a letter to our constituency and to make sure she was on the right track she wanted me to tick off the 10 most important reasons why people respond to fund raising letters. I fumbled around and came up with a few, but I'd like a list from a pro like you. I'll admit I was a little embarrassed.
A: We should all be more than a little embarrassed. One of my continuing concerns is that those of us in nonprofit fundraising don't know our donors or members well enough. That's why I'm a big advocate of calling to thank people when they send in a gift - that's the best way to find out why they're supporting your organization.
You should also encourage your colleague to spend some time processing gifts: opening envelopes, looking at the checks, reading the notes or comments that are often sent along with the gifts, and noticing which mailings are generating lots of responses.
And your agency might benefit from a more extensive survey or poll of your donors to find out who they are and why they give to your organization. To be statistically valid, this survey should be managed by a professional market research firm. Ideally, this research would also involve either focus groups or longer interviews with several donors. These more free-form conversations add insights to the more numerically based analysis.
Of course, all this background learning can't make up for the fact that your staff member has to get writing. Direct mail fundraising works only if you send out those appeal letters. So, here's my stab at those ten reasons. People respond to mailings because ...
(1) they are thanked - both in response to their last contribution and in the appeal letter itself, which should early on express gratitude for the individual's generous support
(2) they are asked - in other words, the letter makes it clear that this isn't an essay or a report but an explicit request for a contribution a this time
(3) they trust you will put their gifts to good use - both in previous mailings and publications (newsletters, annual reports, etc.) and in the letter you're sending now, you demonstrate that you're operating in a diligent and effective manner
(4) they share core values and beliefs with your organization - what you do is accomplishing a greater good
(5) they want to get something done or they like solving problems - your letter either reflects a determination to get the job done or you show how practical and achievable your solution is
(6) they're angry or upset about something - sending a gift becomes a way to express outrage or to protest an action or behavior the donors believe needs exposure
(7) they feel compelled to respond to an emergency or a crisis - they're pleased that your group is dealing with an urgent situation and they see their gifts as a way to make a difference
(8) they appreciate the information and insight you provide, including those in your newsy, chatty appeal letters - individuals who respond to direct mail are overwhelmingly well educated and they are avid readers; they've learned that if they contribute to organizations, they get news about achievements and challenges
(9) they would like to there to be a public record of their support - it's hardly ever the primary or only reason donors send gifts, but many do like others to know that they support your cause or organization, which is why listing donors in your annual report or newsletter can be so effective
(10) they're loyal to your organization and want to maintain their personal tradition of contributing to you - that's why membership renewal, annual fund, and re-activation mailings have very high rates of return
Even though I believe every one of these reasons for giving motivates some of your donors some of the time, I do realize that - at some level - both we and the donors themselves can't really explain rationally or systematically why we write checks when we receive direct mail appeals. There is a certain mysterious and irrational quality to philanthropy. In one sense, the reason that some people respond generously to direct mail is that they are part of that wonderful segment of the population that does just that.
So be sure to give your donors many opportunities throughout the year to do what they enjoy doing: send gifts to you. And be as effusive and appreciative as possible when you send thank you letters to these extraordinary individuals.
Q: What's your experience with and opinion of donor welcome packets or booklets? And what should be included in one?
So you want to do everything you can to make sure that new donor or members stays with you - and sends a second, third, or thirtieth gift.
At the minimum, I'd encourage you to send your new donors a special letter or note to thank them for making their first gifts and to welcome them - along with the most recent copy of your newsletter and some way to communicate with you (a reply device that enables them to correct their name and address along with a reply envelope).
Depending on the size and work of your organization, you might want to consider other enclosures: a copy of your mission statement, a catalogue or other guide to the publications you produce, and a brochure that promotes charitable bequests and other planned gifts.
Some organizations send surveys to their new donors, asking for their opinions ... giving them a chance to say how many mailings or telephone calls they'd like ...requesting biographical or demographic information (age, gender, marital status, religious affiliation, income, and birth date).
As your question suggests, some of the organizations we work with also have a special brochure for new donors or members. Sometimes they're called "Member's Guide" or "New Member's Guide." These brochures make sense especially if your organization has membership benefits or wants to encourage visitors to your facility. In addition to listing any member or donor benefits, these guides can include your mission statement, a very brief history of the organization, highlights of major programs or key accomplishments, and information about how the donor can get more involved or request additional information.
For those groups with monthly giving programs, it makes sense to go to your new donors - usually in an additional, separate mailing or a phone call - and give them a chance to sign up for credit card gifts or electronic funds transfer. Part of welcoming new members or new donors is offering them the convenience of monthly giving.
Finally, several weeks after you've sent out a welcome package, you should call at least a handful of your newly acquired donors. Ask them whether they received your welcome packet - and let them tell you whether you should add or subtract any items. That way, you'll learn more about why people are supporting you, and you'll discover changes you'll want to make to improve your welcome packet.