Dr. Bob’s Rx for Non-Profit Organizations

A few short years ago, it was almost fun producing fundraising direct mail packages. You’d tell recipients about your worthy cause, ask them to give you money, then sit back and count the donations as they rolled in.

But that was then.

This is now.

With the number of registered not-for-profits (NFPs) way up, typical response rates are down from what they once were. As a result, today you have to work hard to attract donors… and then work even harder to keep them. Just ask Dr. Bob.

Question: What’s the most common mistake that NFPs make?

Dr. Bob: Not realizing that it’s often counter-productive to include a phrase like, “Your stamp helps us save money” on the return envelope. You see it every day.

Question: Any other mistakes?

Dr. Bob: A more costly one is lack of continuity and coordination among promotional activities – you have a PR campaign running here, a differently-focused TV commercial running there, and a direct mail package that bears no resemblance to either and makes no reference to them.

Question: What do you think about our getting a general ad agency to do a campaign for us pro bono?

Dr. Bob: You’ll get what you pay for.

Question: You don’t believe the campaign would be as good as their other work?

Dr. Bob: Creatively, it might be even better because, working for free, they won’t be restrained by realities like the need to be true to the brand or the need to get cost-effective results. Maybe they’ll even win an award for creative excellence. For your sake, let’s hope not.

Question: Our last mailing was different from our usual ones. We thought it was great but it fell short of expectations. Any idea why?

Dr. Bob: Hmmm. What did you learn from testing?

Question: We never test any of our packages.

Dr. Bob: Then how can you have expectations?

Question: My boss and I are debating the wisdom of including a brochure with our next mailing. Who do you side with?

Dr. Bob: The person who says to maybe test it with prospects but not to send it to donors.

Question: But I’m sure our donors would be interested in learning a lot more about us and what we’re doing.

Dr. Bob: That’s why web sites were invented.

Question: One of my colleagues says we should stick with two colour printing in our mailings; another says we should invest in four colour.

Dr. Bob: When’s the last time that you, as a donor, preferred to give away money to a rich person? People don’t donate to causes that appear to waste money on lavish productions.

Question: We’ve had decent success attracting one-time donors. However, we’re having trouble renewing them the next year.

Dr. Bob: You make a new friend. Then you don’t get in touch with them for 12 months. How do you expect them to feel close to you?

Question: But a lot of people these days complain that they get too much mail.

Dr. Bob: They also say that advertising doesn’t influence their purchase decisions, they rarely watch TV, and they don’t read The National Enquirer (circulation: 2,760,000/wk).

Question: Some of our donors have asked us to only mail them once a year. Do we have to do what they say?

Dr. Bob: It depends whether you want them to keep them as donors.

Question: I’ve heard that you should keep mailing to a donor who doesn’t respond but that you shouldn’t re-mail a prospect who doesn’t respond.

Dr. Bob: You must have heard that before good prospect lists were so hard to come by. Hey, maybe you caught your unresponsive prospect on a bad day. Why not take a lesson from the credit card pushers and give Norman No-way another shot? Repeated exposures to a sales message work in general advertising; they do with direct mail fundraising too.

Question: Another NFP’s donor list was working really well, but when we swapped lists, it didn’t work for us. And they said ours didn’t work for them.

Dr. Bob: If their type of cause is different from yours, that’s not surprising. A lot of animal lovers won’t give to people causes; internationalists often don’t support local charities…

Question: Does anything surprise you about fundraising these days?

Dr. Bob: Yes -- how many NFP web sites feature stats that are grossly out-of-date. Their direct mail packages feature current info; why don’t their web sites?

Question: Finally, would you like to share something that bothers you concerning the charities you personally support?

Dr. Bob: No thanks.

Question: Beg pardon?

Dr. Bob: It bothers me when I make a donation but get no thanks from the beneficiary. After all, when I buy something in a store, I get a ‘thank you’ from the clerk. When I dine in a restaurant I get a ‘thank you’ from the server. When I give money to a charity, I like to get a prompt ‘thank you’ too…especially since I’ve coughed up cash and didn’t even get a pair of gloves or a salad in return.

Questioner: Thanks for your time today.

Dr. Bob: Don’t mention it.