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Friday, January 19, 2018

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Down the Up Staircase
Penelope Burke

August, 2010

I’ve been contemplating an interesting giving experience.

Several months ago, I made a first-time donation to an organization whose work I have long admired. I knew a bit about their fundraising history and was aware that the value of the gift I made ($500) was well above the average for first-time, online gifts to this particular not-for-profit.  I received a prompt and thoughtful thank you letter (very donor-centered). Not long afterwards, I got a progress report from the CEO which was brief, but very informative (also delightfully donor-centered). Again I was impressed and very happy that I had supported this cause.

About a month later, someone from the organization called me and because of their excellent stewardship to date, I was pleased to speak with their representative. I soon realized I was talking to a telemarketer, likely from an external call center, though I wasn’t entirely sure. She wanted to know if I would join the not-for-profit’s monthly giving program, and suggested that I contribute $15 a month. I paused to multiply $15 times 12 in my head, but the caller took my pause as hesitation and quickly downgraded the ask….”or $10 a month — anything you could do would be very helpful.”

“I recently gave you $500,” I replied. “Why would you downgrade the ask to $120?”  Now it was her turn to pause as she clicked through her list of typical objections, trying in vain to find this one. She didn’t understand what I meant so filled the void with some general information about the charity which, of course, I already knew.  The next time she paused, I just said “No, thanks”.

Three weeks later, I got something in the mail from this same organization. It was a direct marketing ask that suggested I contribute $50, $100, $200, or “other”. I decided to contribute “other” – $0.

In the fundraising industry we perilously assume that any solicitation will do rather than recognizing the importance of how the solicitation itself needs to grow the relationship from gift to gift.  As a result we are turning good numbers like $500 into bad numbers like $0 because we pay more attention to “textbook” solicitation strategies that emphasize volume over responsiveness.  Solicitations are designed to raise money; too often they cost us money.  Too often, they lead donors down the up staircase.

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