4 myths

4 More Costly Fundraising Myths, and the Truths That Can Set You Free

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Ready to raise more money? Here are some more commonly held fundraising myths that could be holding you back.

Myth: Direct mail is dying

They’ve been saying this since before the invention of the postage stamp.

It’s usually said by someone trying to sell some kind of communication medium other than the mail.

And it’s wrong.

Direct mail is still going strong. It is still, arguably, the biggest source of donations and donors. (The house of worship collection plate may be bigger, depending on how you count things.)

And direct mail is the top driver of online giving. If direct mail actually died, it would probably take digital giving with it.

If you’re serious about raising funds, you should be serious about direct mail.

What you need to know is that while it’s still robust, direct mail fundraising is changing.

It’s getting more difficult to make it work. Here’s why:

  • Costs (paper, printing, postage) are going up, always faster than inflation.
  • Response rates are dropping. They have been for many years. Most years (not all), the crop in response is more than made up for by a rise in average gift.
  • Increasingly, donors choose to respond to direct mail online, not using the reply device and envelope. The pandemic really accelerated this trend.

Higher cost plus lower response has made direct mail acquisition of new donors unsustainable for some organizations. But it’s still working just fine for others.

Direct mail does some things digital has yet to replace:

  • It is the most effective “feeder” source of major donors. A large majority of top donors start out in direct mail.
  • It is also the best source of bequest donors.
  • It is an emotional, high-engagement tool for thanking and relationship building.
  • As noted above, it is an important part of a strong online fundraising program.

Don’t give up on direct mail!

Myth: Don’t mail the major donors

This myth says that sending direct mail to high-level donors will annoy them and drive them away.

Apparently, people who give large amounts all really hate direct mail.

No doubt some of them do hate it. The good news is that if you cultivate personal relationships with them, you can find those DM-averse people and stop sending them direct mail.

But those people aren’t at all typical! Here are some facts:

  • A large majority of top donors start their donor journey in direct mail. That is, they become major donors because direct mail worked for them in the first place!
  • Most major donors (about two-thirds) don’t want a personal relationship with a major gift officer. You’ll simply have no chance to delve into their preferences about direct mail … and you’ll have limited ways to communicate with them.
  • While major donors are often more methodical and strategic (it’s common for them to give just one large gift per year) they still make most of their giving decisions with their hearts.

Direct mail can be an important part of your major donor toolkit.

Don’t decide for your best donors that they don’t get direct mail! Give them the choice!

Only remove a major donor from receiving direct mail when you have a specific reason to do so.

Myth: A new brand will solve all our problems

You may not have seen them, but you are surrounded by predators. They’re circling, constantly circling, looking for their chance to strike.

Okay, it’s not as dramatic as that. I’m talking about branding experts, usually from the commercial advertising world, who’d love to do some good in the world (while rounding out their portfolios) by dramatically re-branding a nonprofit organization.

There’s nothing wrong with branding. It can be a powerful and important tool for your organization.

But a new brand is not going to solve all your problems and lead you into a glorious future.

And, if done without reference to real-life donors and fundraising knowledge, it can do much, much worse.

So let me show you some of the warning signs that a proposed new brand might be unhelpful or even harmful:

  • The new brand includes a new logo for your organization. A new logo is not going to cause donors to flock to your side, and/or increase their giving. It simply never happens. On the other hand, I’ve never seen a new logo cause giving to drop. A logo is simply not a high impact element of your communications.
  • The new brand is all about design and little else. Rebranding often includes a set of brand standards for design, often including a color palette, font choices, etc. Like a new logo, changes of this type often have little impact for good or ill. Except in cases when these design choices are unwise – reducing readability, for example – as they sometimes are.
  • The new brand means changing your name. If you want to see revenue crash, go with a new name that’s completely unlike the old one, doesn’t reveal what you actually do. Especially if the new name is some created fake word – a much favored approach by brand experts. It sometimes works in the commercial world, but rarely for nonprofits.  A minor name change that brings clarity is no problem.
  • The new brand is not aimed at your existing donors. This is a big warning sign. Branding experts may say you’ll raise more money by shifting to a new demographic. Theoretically, this could be true, but if the plan is to abandon your current donors for greener pastures, you will almost certainly suffer and crash in giving.
  • The new brand describes your cause with symbolism or abstraction, not real life. Brand experts choose this path a lot. It’s as harmful (and often connected with) a strange name change. Donors don’t give to abstractions and symbols. They give to make real and specific things happen.

There are ways to have transformative breakthroughs in fundraising. Branding is not among them. Steady, patient, competent relationship building with donors is that thing that will dramatically increase revenue.

I know … booo-ring. But it works.

Myth: Fundraising annoys people

This is the most harmful fundraising myth of all.

Not just because it’s false, but because of the way it encourages fundraisers to think about their work.

If you’re afraid every time you ask you’re bothering or hurting donors, you’ll focus more on “pain avoidance” than on actively seeking to motivate donors to join with your cause. You’ll choose silence when communication is called for. Your messaging will be passive and unclear as you try to ask without quite asking.

If you think your fundraising is yucky, you’ll create mostly yucky fundraising.

The truth about fundraising is this: It’s a super-effective generator of happiness and well-being for donors.

  • Charitable giving stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. Research shows that donors are 43% more likely to say they’re “very happy” than non-donors.
  • Giving promotes physical and mental health.
  • Giving is even connected to clear financial benefits for donors: research shows that charitable giving has a return on investment of 3.75 to 1.
  • Oh yeah … giving also helps make the world a better place, which is what donors want.

Donors get it. They experience the benefits all the time.

So try to rid yourself of the “fundraising is annoying” myth.  You’ll raise a lot more money. You’ll help donors improve their lives. And you’ll enjoy your work a lot more!

We all run into fundraising myths at some time or another. Join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic to become part of a supportive community that can help you see the facts from the myths. You’ll also get loads of fundraising courses, access to the experts, and more that will take you to new places in your fundraising career. Join the waiting list now and you’ll be the first to hear when the doors open again!

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