Building relationships beats one-time donations
One of the most common questions we get from our nonprofit clients is: How often should we contact our donors? It’s an important question. It’s also more complicated than you might expect, which is why a single answer won’t suffice. Based on our experience with thousands of campaigns, we have developed guidelines that have worked well over the years.
Put your budget where you get the most ROI
Nonprofits are limited by budgets. So it’s logical to put your direct mail budget where you get the best return on investment. For active donors—those who have donated within the past 12 months—we recommend mailing three times per year (spring, fall, and end of year). For recently lapsed donors—those who last donated within the past 24-48—months, twice a year is suggested. For long lapsed donors you haven’t heard from in four years or more, once at the end of the year is best. Again, this must be driven by your budget. If ROI is insufficient for lapsed or long lapsed donors, adjust as necessary.
Test—and retest—to find what works for you
Think of it this way: you should mail consistently enough to keep your cause in mind, but not so often you become intrusive or annoying. The only way to reliably learn how well your outreach is working is to essentially ask your donors through closely monitoring and testing the response rates. The point is to find what works. Our experience tells us that under communicating is worse than over communicating. Regular, consistent mailings assure donors that you are a thriving entity.
Don't ignore small donors
It makes sense to focus on major donors, but don't ignore your small donors. Instead, nurture them. They hold potential for the future. Consider tweaking your ask table to get them to a point that is comfortable for them, and always remind them of how valuable they are to your work.
Combine direct mail and email
While not usually as effective for fundraising as direct mail, email has a place in your donor outreach program. It's an effective way to foster relationships, so use it to inform donors about breaking news or success stories you think they’ll find interesting or inspiring. Plus, email is quicker and cheaper to send.
Nurture relationships with direct mail
Remember, you don't send direct mail to beg for money. You send direct mail to nurture relationships. It's a tool to give people the opportunity to contribute to a cause they believe in. You’re asking donors to help you achieve something they already consider important.
So remind donors about not only what you are doing, but also why you are doing it. Let them know who is benefiting from your programs, and the difference the work is making in the world. Your donors are an integral part of your success. Regularly reminding them of that will keep your donors active and engaged because effective outreach builds lasting relationships, not just one-time donations.