Donors are liars.
Yeah, I said it.
Actually, so do a lot of professionals in the direct mail fundraising field.
If you ask your donors how best to communicate with them -- how often, in what form, and how they’d like your letters to read -- they’ll tell you.
But I can guarantee you that what they tell you won’t be true.
You’d think it would be great idea to ask your donors for feedback about how you’re running your fundraising campaign, right? After all, who best knows how strong or weak your fundraising appeals are than the people you’re making them to?
And anyway, donors love being asked for their opinions and input! It makes them feel appreciated and important to your organization and cause. And, hey! They’ll reward you with all kinds of suggestions and tips on how to run your campaign better, too!
Well, that first part is pretty true. Donors do love to feel needed and valued -- who doesn’t?
...About that second part, though.
It turns out when we’re talking about how often we should mail, how long our letters should be, or how formal or informal they should read, what a donor says she wants and what she’ll actually respond to are two different things.
For example, ask your donors this: how often would you like to hear from me?
They’ll say what you might expect: a few times a year, quarterly, maybe every couple of months.
But try only mailing your donors a few times a year. You’re not going to get too many donations for your cause. The likelihood of a donor staying passionate about your cause or remembering their last donation and your thank you after a few months is very low.
Here’s another one: how professional would you like my letters to be?
You can expect your donors to say, of course, I’d like you to send me professional letters! They’re perfectly written and organized, respectful, diplomatic...
...Wrong. Their response rates tell me otherwise.
It’s best practice in direct mail to not only NOT sound professional, but to completely throw “professional” out the window. Donors almost always respond better to emotional, friendly, casual letters -- like a letter you’d send to your best friend. They like personal stories and familiarity. They like to be treated more like a member of your family instead of a financier for your organization.
In fact, donors are so responsive to this informal style that you may find your best fundraising practices include writing fundraising letters that would make your 6th grade English teacher clutch her pearls before passing out.
So, why is that?
Maybe our idea of something is a lot different than our perception of it when it’s in front of us.
If I was to ask you how often you’d like to get a fundraising letter from me, I’d expect you to say something like “eh, maybe every ONCE in a while...”
You’re thinking of all of the direct mail you get in your mailbox each day -- not necessarily just fundraising appeals, but catalogs and brochures and newsletters and credit card offers and home security system flyers and craft store coupons and on and on and on and on...
But if my letter caught your eye and you chose to open and read it? You’d learn about my cause, how we are working to help people, how much I appreciate your support, what you and I have been able to accomplish together, and how much I still need your help to make a difference.
That letter is little bit harder to put down.
But before you accuse me of implying you should never, ever, ever trust or listen to your donors, just hold on a second. You can (and SHOULD) ask your donors how they feel about your cause and the work that you do. Your donors are invested in your cause and care deeply about your work -- their feedback is invaluable.
Just...maybe don’t ask them about how you should mail. Best stick to what we know works.