Time to Give Up on a Prospect?

Dear Kim,

When is it time to give up on a prospect? We have many people in our database who have received direct mail appeals for years (some five years or more) and have never made a gift. How long should someone be courted and informed of an organization’s work before they are taken off the mailing list?
—Hope Is Waning

Dear Hope,

People who have never given to an organization, but who have been identified as prospects (that is, they care about your cause and they give away money) ought to be asked at least twice, but at the most three-four times over the course of 12-18 months, and then taken off the list. There are many reasons why people don’t respond to direct mail, and here’s a sampling:

a. They simply don’t respond to direct mail. If you phoned or canvassed, they might respond.

b. They don’t open any mail except bills and personal letters.
c. They don’t like your group.

d. They like your group fine, but have other priorities. No one can give to everything they care about.

e. They have moved, divorced or died and are not able to respond.

f. They are sick of you writing to them.

Many nonprofits get hold of a name of prospect and think that by repeated mailing, they are cultivating the person. However, if Person A asks Person B for a date several times a year for five years and never even gets their phone call returned or has any reason to think Person B is interested, hopefully Person A’s friends would tell him or her to get a clue. Possibly Person B would feel stalked, but would probably not feel courted.

Sending one appeal after another is a waste of paper, ink, transportation, time, and money. It costs $2-3 a year (at least) to keep someone on your mailing list, and if you are getting no response, you might as well take that $2-3, tear it into little pieces, stuff it down the sewer and call that fundraising.

Take the money you are spending on the names in your database and use it get new names, some of whom may actually respond. Good luck.
—Kim