One Size Doesn’t Always Fit

By: Cheryl Clarke

You’ve heard that before. If true, why do so many nonprofit organizations treat all prospects and donors alike?

We’re now in the midst of the year-end giving season. This time of year, development departments are typically overwhelmed with work. Appeal letters. E-blasts. Giving Tuesday. Given the sheer volume of tasks, it’s all too easy – and seemingly a necessity – to solicit major donors the same way you do the $50 prospect. Yet while sending major donors the same appeal used to reach small and mid-level donors may be efficient, it won’t be effective in the long-term.

Last year, I reviewed a client’s year-end giving strategies. Their plan was to follow the same approach they’ve used the previous year and for several prior years: send the same snail mail appeal letter and three follow up emails to everyone who had donated in the prior 24 months. Whether it was $25 or $2,500, everybody got the same message at roughly the same time. Not surprising, their year-end donations had been flat for years.

Recognizing this small social service agency had limited bandwidth (and which one doesn’t?), I secured support from the Executive Director and board of directors to try something different. They still sent one snail mail appeal and three follow up emails, but this time they excluded everyone who had donated $500+. Instead, these 100 or so individuals first received a personalized appeal letter with a handwritten message from a board member. The ask was simple: please renew and if possible consider increasing your gift to meet growing client needs.

The results? Nearly 15% of the donors increased their gifts!

Encouraged by last year’s results, the agency will further customize their major donor strategy. This year, board members will call major donors a week after their personalized letters are mailed. The goal is a retention rate of 85% with 20% upgrading their gifts. Not using a one size fits all approach positions this agency to achieve its ambitious year end goals.

What is your agency’s plan for year-end success?  Keep in mind, the shoe does always fit!