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Tackling the Problem of Asking Too Often

Resource Center - Foundation

(July 13, 2010) When to ask again? It's a question that crosses the minds of fundraisers all the time. And it's a source of frustration as appeals cross donors' desks, well, all the time. The answer may actually be quite simple: Ask for money when a donor is ready to give again, and not a second before.

In an interview this week with AFP eWire, fundraising consultant and author Penelope Burk says the trend toward over-solicitation is very real and continues to weigh heavily on the minds of donors, who consistently rank ‘being asked too much' at the top of their list of reasons why they gave less or stopped giving altogether to a particular charity. Burk has been taking a readout of what donors like and dislike about their experience with charities and measuring giving habits for several years. Since 2000 she has asked why donors stop giving--and over-solicitation has been a growing theme.

So when IS a donor ready to give again? Burk says it's when you have shown the donor the measurable positive results of his or her previous gift. It's after your organization has given proof, so to speak, that what you promised you would do with a donor's contribution has happened. "Showing your donors what they have accomplished is what closes the circle and inspires them to think ‘Wow, I did this ... I want to do more!'" she says.

Beyond the Numbers

Asking too much is not a matter of numbers, Burk is quick to point out. Donors do not say in surveys that they are okay with three mail appeals or phone calls in a given year but spin into a fit of rage when they get a fourth. Rather, it is when donors get the feeling that they are being asked again before they are satisfied that their gift was put to good use in the first place. That will vary depending on your organization, she says. For some it is about feeding a family of four left starving after a natural disaster. Those results come quickly. So too, then, can your next appeal. For other organizations the results take longer to demonstrate, such as increasing literacy in a community. If it takes longer to show measurable progress, then it should take longer before a donor receives another appeal letter.

It's not that people do not want to give, Burk explains. They are just getting more sophisticated with their giving. This year, 72 percent of respondents in her firm's donor survey said they could be inspired to give more generously this year than they had planned. But getting too many solicitations, not seeing demonstrated results, and worries about the amount of money spent on fundraising are holding them back.

"The fact that donors are worried about how nonprofits are using funds is all the more reason to show results, and also not to send too many solicitations--which donors know cost money," Burk says. "It's really not a matter of how many times you ask, it's waiting for the proper time to ask again."

One may remember the story of a boy throwing starfish one by one into the ocean after hundreds of them had washed up along the shore. Someone walks up to the boy and asks, Why are you trying to help, what does it matter? As the story goes, the boy tosses a starfish and says "it matters to this one." But would he be so motivated to pick up the next starfish if he could not see the first one landing safely into water? Seeing is believing. Don't ask your donors to give more when they're not yet sure their previous donations have done any good.

Penelope Burk is president of Cygnus Applied Research and author of the book Donor-Centered Fundraising. She makes frequent updates to her blog on fundraising titled Burk's Blog.

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