How Often Should We Be Asking?

Dear Kim,

How often should you try to get someone who gave your organization money once to give again?

~Persistence and Pestering: Where is the Line?

Dear Persistence,

The sad fact that has to be taken into account when building a donor program is that most people who give once will not give again. The percentage of people who give a second gift varies from 25-40%. (This is called your “conversion rate” and is an important metric to track.)

In deciding how often to ask a person for a second gift before letting that name go, look at the source of the first gift. For example, if the gift came through a houseparty, ask the hosts to make a note beside people they think probably gave just to be nice. Solicit those people twice at the most. Many of us are on the receiving end of requests from organizations we supported because we wanted to help a friend, and we feel badly when it seems that the organization is spending more money asking us over and over than we gave in the first place.  

If the gift came through online or direct mail, you have to see each donor as part of a segment. Let’s say you acquired 500 new donors last year and 200 of them have given a second gift. You would appeal to the 300 who haven’t as long as you got a higher percent of response from that list than you would get if you went out to 300 new people. This could be asking twice or three times or five times depending on how the list performs.

After trying a few times (more than once, less than five times), consider calling the donor if you have a phone number. Sometimes people don’t give again because they moved and didn’t get your mail, or because your appeal always winds up in their spam filter. But at a certain point, you will need to write a “is all over between us” letter which asks the donor to let you know if they want to stay on your list or would rather be taken off.

Keeping your list clean is critically important. With email, a list that is full of people who don’t care about your organization doesn’t cost you more money, but can still be misleading in terms of figuring out how much support you really have. You don’t want to spend money and time on people who are not interested in your work and may resent being asked over and over. Make the focus of your work with donors on donors who give over and over, and who give more and more.

Good luck,

Kim Klein