Lift Your Finger Off that Send Button

In every research study I have conducted over the past twenty years, donors have said that, more than anything else, information about what past contributions have achieved is the thing that motivates their desire to give again and give more generously. So, since communication is the critical bridge to indefinite giving, why are so many donors blocking your emails?

The problem is over-communication which, today, matches over-solicitation in its capacity to frustrate donors. Asking or communicating too often has become the number one reason why donors stop giving and why those who continue to donate give far less than they are able. In the most recent Burk Donor Survey, 39% of respondents said they gave less than they could last year; 62% said that they are more likely now than they were five years ago to stop supporting not-for-profits that communicate and ask too often.

Sending an email is fast and cheap when compared with the time and cost of producing and distributing printed information. This has made it possible for not-for-profits to accelerate the volume of communications from four times a year to weekly or even daily. The assumption is, of course, that communicating more frequently drives home the message, increasing the likelihood that donors will give again. In fact, the opposite is true.

Our firm is often contracted by not-for-profits to conduct research on their donors. Over the years we have found that clients who communicate very frequently have much lower rates of participation in our studies. In some cases, our clients’ donors respond in greater numbers to requests to join surveys that come from Cygnus (a company they know nothing about) than from the very organizations they support.

How to raise more money by issuing donor-centered communications

As the problem of over-communication grows, donors are signaling a desire for a different approach. Making your communications donor-centered is the solution.

Donors pay attention to information that is…
• new
• important
• concise
• compelling

Communications with these four attributes are donor-centered because they influence more donors to give again and give more generously.

All four attributes must be present in every communication you send. So, for example, if you have something new to say but you don’t say it in a compelling way or the subject matter is not particularly important to donors, it will not be remembered. If you communicate something important but bury it in a four-paragraph email, busy donors won’t take the time to figure out what you are trying to say. Or, if your email is genuinely important and concise, but you’ve said it three times before, donors will conclude that you have nothing new to say. When that happens, they will stop opening your emails. Soon the system will anticipate their preferences and your emails will get blocked before they reach their destination. Once the communication link with your donors is broken, it is much more difficult to convince them to keep giving, let alone give more generously.

It is not easy to craft concise and compelling communications but you will get better with every attempt. And, by lifting your finger off that send button, you will give your donors the breathing room they need to contemplate your mission and what they are helping you achieve. When that happens, you will retain more donors longer and some will leap into a whole new level of giving. That’s the bottom line advantage of donor-centered communication.

Showing 6 comments
  • robert mills

    I am a donor, not a charitable organization representative.

    Your comments are right on!
    I have stopped contributing to some organizations that over solicit.
    The next irritant is an organization that fails to cross check a new list they use with current donors.
    I have received 3 solicitations in the same month (obviously new lists) from an organization where I already have a donor account. How frustrating.

  • Jenna Streit

    In our yearly donor survey, we asked our donors how they feel about the amount of communication they received. So far, the answers are quite positive.

    Based on donor research from Penelope Burke, our emails need to be tight. It seems that direct mail can be a little bit longer, right?

    • Penelope Burk

      The problem is allowing format to override content. It’s not that emails should be X in length and direct mail letters should be Y; the question is, what are you trying to say and how concisely can you say it while still making your communication compelling. The answer to that question determines how long the communication should be.

  • David

    I donate to only 2 charities, Rotary, and my church. I stopped with all the others, over-communication or more importantly, over-solicitation. I stopped about 15 years ago when I decided to donate, and the next thing I knew I was being solicited by the same organization for a different charity. Had to block emails, and phone calls. Only stopped when I threatened to complain to the CRTC.

  • Jen M.

    I’m a writer and content strategist and often tell my clients that good writing has the “4 Cs”: clear, concise, compelling, consistent!

  • Jamie W

    I think that donors clearly don’t want to be over-asked, but it can be very difficult for fundraisers to find the balance between over-asking and not asking enough. This is especially true since we see so many articles about donors who say, “I didn’t give because you didn’t ask.” The key to finding this balance while fundraising is to ask clearly when you do have the donor’s attention and then alternate asks with impact reports and other valuable communications, such as news about the organization. That way, the donor doesn’t feel barraged with asks. And certainly don’t include an ask in a gift acknowledgement!

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