Fundraising: Are You Open Minded?

Within the last week, I have received three three calendars in the mail. Two are from organizations I support with a small yearly gift. One is acquisition.

There’s no question that these packages stand out in the mailbox. In fact, they dwarf the No. 10 standard left window envelope in more ways than one. And I know calendars are good fundraising workhorses—for cultivation and acquisition.

In the last month, I have also received address labels, a nickel, a dime, a pocket planner, a bumper sticker, a membership card and a music CD—all freemiums from nonprofits hoping I will make a donation.

And then there are the premiums—items that will be sent to me after I give. A few are even more “lasting” than the water bottle or book—opportunities to have my name permanently displayed because of my generosity.

I am not bashing these offers—actually, it’s quite the opposite! As much as premiums and freemiums lend themselves to sneers from some fundraising purists, one fact remains: they work. Not every time, but sometimes.

For most of my career, I have focused on direct response fundraising. Oh, I’ve done just about everything else from campaigns to events, but direct response was what I really loved (probably because of the relatively fast gratification from seeing results as donations come in). But in recent years, direct response that is not online seems to have gone out of vogue. My students chuckle benevolently when I show the most enthusiasm when teaching the direct mail module. At major conferences, finding sessions on direct mail is like searching for a four-leaf clover. Direct mail practitioners like me often feel like dinosaurs that somehow missed the memo telling us to adapt or become extinct.

But there’s a reality for all of us: Fundraising success comes from having a balanced program and not relying too heavily on one or just a few fundraising methodologies. There is (or should be) room at the table for all of us, because the work we have to do matters.

But in direct mail or anything else, that doesn’t mean it’s open season for wanton spending. Instead:

  • Remember that net income matters … usually. Just looking at gross income can give you a false sense of success. What is left over once you deduct the cost of the activity from the income raised?
  • Have a clear outcome goal. There are times when net income doesn’t trump all; for example, when you are trying to secure new donors, you have to measure using that yardstick.
  • Measure everything. If a premium is working, what happens when you remove it? Does the package still net the same (or even more) dollars? Do you acquire fewer donors in acquisition with or without the freemium?
  • Don’t stop measuring when you’ve calculated initial results. Especially in acquisition, look at long-term value. Do donors acquired from a freemium mailing continue giving as well as those acquired with no freemium? Do donors who only give when there is a premium offer have a better long-term value than non-premium donors?
  • Don’t be a snob when it comes to fundraising methodologies. I admit, for quite a while, I refused to “spoil myself” by testing an address label acquisition package. Some of you may never consider giving direct mail a chance. Still others may think all events do is consume time with little net return. The reality is there are fundraising efforts that are an embarrassment to all of us in the field, and others that are a waste of money and time. But discarding the methodology because of some bad executions by others can keep you from maximizing your fundraising success.

I know there is ugly, misleading, manipulative, very bad direct mail out there. But there is also direct mail that is honest, moving, encouraging and welcomed by our constituents.

This old dog’s goal is to always strive for that—in direct mail and every other fundraising effort I work on. If that means I send out a freemium, that’s OK. If it’s a high-end proposal, that’s fine, too. If it’s an old method or something that we didn’t even imagine less than a decade ago, no problem—because a well-balanced program is the one that will deliver year after year and provide a solid foundation for our organizations.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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