Nonprofit Periscope

Keeping an eye on news of the sector

Sometimes it does hurt to ask.

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As a development professional, I think of my home mailbox as my little fundraising lab. Every week I get a flurry of donation appeals from groups I’ve given to in the past, as well as some I haven’t, and on the elevator ride up I run a quick triage:

  • Maybe
  • No
  • Why did I even get this?

For months I’ve been getting appeals from a global nonprofit whose work I respect. They focus on a single condition, and their results are both visible and inspiring.  My little cousin was born with this condition, so I have a personal connection to the nonprofit. I’m an ideal annual-level donor for them. And they seem to know it, because they mail me an appeal EVERY MONTH.

As fundraisers like to say, the worst that can happen is that a prospect says no. But that’s not really the worst that can happen.

We’ve all gone through this: you get a donation appeal, you send back $25, you mentally check it off your to-do list…and then they ask you again. Often, you get the next appeal–from the same group, remember–before you get an acknowledgment for your first gift. And when that second one comes, you think, “Wait, didn’t I just give these guys money? What do they want now?”

Which is exactly what I thought every month as that aforementioned group’s logo peeked up at me from my stack of mail. Finally, my escape came: an appeal that said “Give now and we’ll never ask you for another dollar!” Yes sir, I thought. That’s exactly what I want. They got another $20 and I got a sigh of relief. Freedom! No more guilt at recycling the envelope, unopened, with the disfigured child on the front, a single tear sliding down his face.

Until the next month. You know what happened. Cue disfigured-weeping-child envelope with enclosed fundraising appeal. Cue disbelief, perhaps naive. This time, I didn’t just say no. I felt officially alienated.

There are many reasons this organization could have sent me an appeal immediately after I literally checked the box that said “Please remove me from mailing list.” Among them:

  • Their administrative staff hasn’t entered my mailing preference in the donor management database yet
  • I’m on more than one of their mailing lists
  • They always ask please-remove-me donors one more time
  • They figure it can’t hurt to ask again

Of those reasons, only the last two are reprehensible, even disrespectful. No, my hand didn’t skid across the please-remove-me box by accident. Yes, I thought you meant it when you said you’d never ask me again. I feel like whoever’s on the other end of that trifold two-color mailer is definitely not listening to me.

As a fundraiser, I understand the need to ask. But as a donor, I’m baffled by the lack of comprehension that I don’t want mail from this group anymore. My fellow fundraisers–and I ask this purely out of curiosity–what possible reasons do you have NOT to listen to your donors?

Whether you’re a donor, a fundraiser, or both, you probably have experience with this. Do you agree that sometimes it does hurt to ask?

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Written by eclawson

November 11, 2010 at 4:06 PM

One Response

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  1. I share your frustrations Elizabeth.

    For me, it often does hurt to ask. I have only once responded to an ask. Though I donate to probably on average 5+ organizations yearly, I do it like you – check, done, I’ll remember next time on my own, thanks.

    Perhaps we are the one in 10, or the one in 100. That even though we don’t want to get asked ever again, most donors don’t actually care. That if they didn’t ask again, only one out of ten would donate again, whereas if they ask (even if they said they wouldn’t) that three, or four, or seven will donate again.

    Fund development isn’t always pretty.

    Trina Isakson

    November 11, 2010 at 6:47 PM


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