5 Questions to Shape Your Direct Response Fundraising Project

“We need money! Can you send out an email/mailing/newsletter?” Have you heard some variation of that in your career? It’s tough enough doing a great job when you can plan a project, but when you have no time for the “luxury” of rumination, take a few minutes to answer these five questions to help your direct response fundraising be as effective as possible.

1. Who are you talking to?

If your target audience is older donors, your message will be different than if you are mailing or sending to a list of Millennials. Before you do anything else, figure out who will be reading your message. I understand your list isn’t 100 percent alike, but who is most likely to receive and respond to your message? The key is “respond”—direct response fundraising is all about responses; emailing or mailing a magnificently written fundraising appeal is wasted effort if no one is moved to respond as a result.

2. How have they given in the past?

While it would be wonderfully easy if people all over the world woke up every morning with a desire to go online and make a charitable donation, that’s not the case. So when you have interrupted their regularly scheduled lives with fundraising requests in the past, how did they respond? Are they reading mail and mailing in a check? Reading mail and going online to give? Reading an e-communication and clicking to give? Offering them an opportunity to respond via their preferred methods (not necessarily yours) will encourage response.

3. What are others doing that can inspire your own creativity?

Look through the samples you have been saving from your own mailbox and inbox, or look at a database like Who’s Mailing What! to get inspiration. But remember—just because someone else mailed it or emailed it, doesn’t mean it’s good fundraising or that it worked. But other organizations’ fundraising can help jumpstart your own ideas. If you seriously answered question No. 1, it will be much easier to rule out things that look interesting, but would probably not resonate with your target audience.

4. What are you asking the recipient to do?

If the offer is complex, you may want to use mail with an email follow-up (chaser) simply because that gives you more space to work with and more opportunity to (hopefully) engage your audience. If the offer is easy to grasp, you may be able to completely communicate the need and what you are asking donors to do in response in less space and with fewer words. The answer to this question and question No. 1 can help to determine the best form of direct response communication for your project.

5. When do you need a response?

Mail takes longer to arrive but often has a longer “shelf life,” while an e-appeal is more immediate but far easier to ignore. Someone who takes the time to engage with the email and then decides to give will respond faster than someone who writes a check (or goes online to give after reading the letter), but you most likely will have fewer people who actually read (or even scan) the message. Alternately, you can send out an email with a follow-up letter, or a letter with the email as a follow-up. Both working together can improve the likelihood that you will receive a response.

There is no one solution for direct response fundraising success, and this old dog is grateful for the many tools from which we have to choose. But the key is remembering that what we choose is not about what we want; it’s about what the donor wants—and that’s shown by what he or she responded to in the recent past. Beginning our project by asking these five questions can help us find the perfect solution to a direct response fundraising need.

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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