Annual Giving: The Myth of the Magic Letter

4 08 2011

I sometimes call this discussion Magic Letter #41.  Many annual giving programs will send their non-donors letter after letter hoping that the response will change.  To quote Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. 

So why magic letter #41?  Well, if you have been sending your non-donor pool four letters a year for ten years…..STOP! There is nothing magical about that 41st letter! They will not open it and say “okay, you got me” and suddenly send in their annual gift. What we have likely done is spent $2-$3 in postal and material costs. While healthcare fundraising and other philanthropic sectors tend to release prospects sooner than the education sector, there is  a clear need to shift our strategy.

Once someone hits your definition of hardcore non-donor or lapsed donor by not giving — change strategies.  Some organizations have effectively used, die-cut appeals to catch people’s attention, shock and awe approaches (a military academy once sent non-donors a “you are on report” slip), or even old school approaches like live stamps and hand addressing.  What is clear that changing strategies and tactics is crictical.

How to avoid the Magic Letter?

1)      Decide what makes someone a hard core non-donor and what are you willing to invest annually in that prospect pool (sometimes it is a communication tool that you will want to use at least annually)?

2)      Develop a strategy for acquiring or reacquiring those prospective donors? (strategies may include: special appeals, timing of appeals, special campaigns, challenges) Hint: Don’t use the same strategy that hasn’t worked!

3)      Be realistic when someone is not a prospect – it is good development work to say someone is not a prospect on occasion.

Good luck!  – Mark Marshall




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