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Fundraising Falacies 101

It’s hard to find a good image for illogical arguments, but I found this one to be pretty funny!

I have the privilege of working on many non profit boards in the local community and on a national level. These include Friends of Kids Castle, Warrington Youth Baseball and I also serve on the board of The Giving Institute, which in conjunction with the Giving USA foundation is responsible for the annual Giving USA results that calculate overall philanthropy in the USA on an annual basis.

I even serve on the board of a group called, Video Golfers for Underdogs, which- as the name implies- is a fraternal group and we have raised over $150,000 for charity over the years playing video golf (you really can’t make this up folks!).

As a fundraiser/board member who works with people from all walks of life within the organizations I support, many times I run into situation I call “fundraising fallacies”. Basically, the majority of people I work with believe that fundraising is not selling, and is therefore different then selling pizza, bagels, medical supplies, roofing, office supplies, etc; all occupations where they make their living.

Let me explain.

Within these local boards (who are populated with small business owners, teachers, plumbers, retirees and your occasional software VP), I sometimes hear the following: “I received an email from Mr. Smith, who is one of our major donors. They say we are asking him and his friends too many times for money. Therefore, I think we should give all of our donors a break and postpone/cancel our next campaign so that we don’t upset our donors.”

Somehow, these people believe that in the end, it is better to have donors ‘rest’ than to have a continuous series of campaigns – much like you see from any pizza, subway restaurant, professional sports, or any other business.

Well, who is correct? Is it better to rest donors or to keep them active?

Most people who are reading this already know the truth- it is a ridiculous and expensive mistake to stop fundraising asks, no matter what the reason.

For example, despite my advice, another organization I advise didn’t hold an annual golf outing in 2009 because of the economy. Their thinking was that it was better to not have the event, give volunteers and donors a rest, and then bring it back in 2010 with more fanfare. The result? The 2010 event was CANCELED as well, because of lack of interest. Where they used to raise $25,000 now became zero. They lost $50,000 for both years before starting it again in 2011. Yikes!

Close your eyes. Imagine that McDonalds stops advertising to give their customers a rest from eating their burgers and french fries. Now open your eyes.

Does that sound silly??? Of course it does! That’s why you see them bombarding us with advertising and commercials. Is it true that they offend some of their customers if they advertise too much? Yes, likely (and certainly some vegetarians!). However, the end gain of increased consumer participation vs. the tiny, tiny percentage of customers who are offended make this strategy overwhelmingly positive.

The bottom line is that there is a fundamental truth in fundraising that most fundraisers already know and board members should remember forever:

The likelihood of a donor giving again decreases proportionally with an increasing amount of time since the last donation.

Here’s the same concept delivered in a positive way:

The likelihood of a donor giving again increases proportionally with the least amount of time since the last donation.

And these statements make sense. Ask yourself- who is more likely to give? Someone who gave 3 months ago or someone who gave 3 years ago? The answer is relatively straight forward from the data: 3-4 months. That is – the optimum time to ask again for a donation is 3-4 months since the last donation. Now, these timeframes may change based on your type of organization, but in general our data suggests it’s within this range for the vast majority of our clients.

I don’t care if you are a food bank, animal shelter, social service, college, museum, hospital, baseball youth organization, or any of the other 300+ types of non profit organizations which raise $300 Billion a year in the USA. If you are not constantly engaging and asking for money from your donors, you are literally throwing money away and hurting the very cause you are trying to help.

In the zeal to please everyone all of the time, you have to take the tiny minority who complain with a grain of salt. For everyone you lose who think you are asking too much and too often, you will gain the vast majority who supports your cause but do not give voluntarily UNLESS THEY ARE ASKED. If you do not ask, you will not receive any money. Period.

Just like McDonalds, people need a reason to walk into a restaurant, and the marketing effort works- otherwise they wouldn’t be spending billions of dollars to get us to eat at their restaurants.

Please take the same lessons which businesses have implemented- literally over thousands of years- and apply it to your own non profit organization.

I guarantee the results will pleasantly surprise you- despite the occasional complaint. And if you do receive a complaint, point that donor or board member to this article so they understand why you are constantly reaching out to them!

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