You send out the same letter to a mixed list of current donors, lapsed donors, and prospects. Hopefully you’ll see a decent return, from the current and lapsed donors, and pick up a few new ones as well.
There’s just one problem with this: Motivating donors to give again and motivating someone to give for the first time are two very different things, requiring very different letters.
The right way:
You send out a specially written package to a targeted list of prospects only.
What do I mean by targeted list of prospects?
I mean you rent a list of people most likely to give to your cause (there are list brokerage services that can help you…) And you mail to as large a list as you can.
Why is a large list important?
Direct mail (especially an acquisition mailing) is a numbers game. Last I heard, the industry standard for a successful acquisition mailing was a response of .5 – 1%.
That means if you do everything right, you’re likely looking at 1 new donor out of every 100 – 200 letters mailed.
“We can’t make money like that! What’s the point?”
You’re right. You might not even raise enough money to cover the cost of your mailing.
But the point of an acquisition mailing isn’t to raise money. It’s to get new donors.
This is so important, it is worth repeating.
The point of an acquisition mailing is to get new donors.
Think of it as a marketing tool. Just like businesses advertise to attract new customers, you mail to attract new donors.
How much is your average donor worth to you?
How much will they give to you over their lifetime?
Sure, they may only give $5 or $10 their first time. But properly stewarded, they may stay with you for years, at a much higher giving level.
The key to successful fundraising communications is to take a long term view. You aren’t after the immediate donation. You’re trying to build a relationship.
The donor that gives you a $5 gift today may be a major donor years from now.
Why can’t you raise money and new donors at the same time?
Maybe you can.
But I’ve found that my communications are most successful when they focus on a single goal.
I ask myself “what’s the point of this? What do I want the reader to do?”
In the case of an acquisition mailing, you want the reader to give you a gift. The size if the gift isn’t important. What’s important is that they give something, anything - thereby beginning a donor relationship with you.
Get them to take a chance on you.
Smaller gifts are less risky than large ones.
They give a first gift, which opens the door to future solicitation down the road.
If their gift of $5 was a good experience for them, they’ll likely give you more in the future.
A small ask amount is very similar to the free sample promotions some businesses run. A business gives away free samples because they want you to try their product. Hopefully you like it, and become a customer.
The challenge is you can’t give donors a free sample of what it feels like to donate to you. So you do the next best thing – make it as low-risk as possible.
A good way to do that? Ask for a small amount, maybe $5.
(Note: Some organizations find that larger amounts work better than small amounts in acquisition. If you can test, test different ask amounts and see which gets the highest response. But in general, the smaller the ask amount, the more likely a prospect will respond.)
Alright. You’ve got a large list of likely prospects (because direct mail is a number’s game.) And, you’ve settled on an ask of $5 (because it is a low-risk amount, and more prospects are likely to respond.)
One thing remains…
You need a strong case for giving.
Entire books have been written about how to create an effective case for giving (Tom Ahern’s How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money is a great book and can be read in a couple hours.)
For our purposes here I’m going to briefly give you four key things your case for giving must have:
1. Emotional pull. You must reach your prospects on an emotional level. Make them feel that your cause is important.
2. Tell them about what you do. Don’t bore them, but give them enough information that they understand what you do, who you help, and why.
3. Tell them what their gift will do. Why should they help you? What will their donation accomplish? Make them believe that their gift will help.
4. Make your donor the hero. Try to take yourself out of the picture as much as possible. It’s like this: You aren’t feeding starving children. Your donors are, through gifts to you. In fact, you aren’t providing, ensuring, doing, or saving anything. Your donors are, by supporting your organization.
If you only take one thing away from this, remember: In acquisition you’re trying to raise donors, not money.