Reduce Your Donor Attrition in Four Ways

     From Alan Sharpe - The Expert Fundraiser


Your non-profit loses 15 percent of its donors every year, if you are typical. What can you do to reduce that percentage?

First, understand that all non-profit organizations lose donors. Some donors stop giving because they stop living. Others lose their jobs, get a divorce, retire or suffer a business loss. These things are outside of your control.

But some donors fall away because of something you do. Or don't do. Here are a few proven ways to keep your direct mail donors inspired, motivated and giving.

1.Thank donors promptly for every gift
Pick up the phone or mail a thank-you letter or card within 24 hours of receiving every gift, regardless of its size or source. The longer you delay, the more likely you are going to be perceived as ungrateful or disorganized, or both. Donors who are thanked promptly for their gifts are more likely to give again.

2. Show donors how you are using their gifts to change the world
I read in the November 2007 issue of a Quaker peace magazine that the war in Iraq was costing American taxpayer $720 million a day. That's a lot of groceries. With no end to the occupation or the killing in sight. As the deaths of American soldiers continued, and as the costs of the war continued or increased, popular support for this war, such as it is, would decrease. No one wants to throw their hard-earned money at a losing venture.

One sure way to encourage repeat donations and reduce donor attrition is to show donors that their gifts are changing the world, making a difference, changing lives.

3. Balance informing with asking
Don't mail more newsletters than appeals, and vice versa. Strike a balance between asking for funds and informing donors how you are using those funds. Mail an appeal, then a newsletter, then an appeal, and so on.

4. Acquire donors who are most likely to remain loyal
One way to reduce donor attrition is to attract loyal donors in the first place. Before you mail a direct mail donor acquisition package, make sure the people on your list meet your profile of an ideal donor. Avoid front-end premiums and sweepstakes that tend to attract low- dollar donors who vanish after their first gift.

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  • Donor Acquisition Mailings Differ from Donor Renewal Mailings

From The Expert Fundraiser, Alan Sharpe

Your job as a direct mail fundraiser is to make new friends every and keep them for as long as possible. And to do that you need two kinds of letter, acquisition and renewal. Understand the differences between these two letters and you'll improve your results.

Acquisition mailings are designed to persuade non- donors to mail you their first gift. They aim to acquire donors.

Renewal mailings are designed to encourage past donors to give again. Their aim is to renew, or re- solicit, existing donors.

Acquisition mailings are mailed to strangers.
Renewal mailings are mailed to friends.

Acquisition mailings tend to be inexpensive, costing anywhere from $0.50 to $1.00 a piece.

Renewal mailings tend to be more expensive, costing anywhere from $0.75 to $7.00 a piece.

Acquisition mailings, to keep costs down, tend to be one-size fits-all. They rarely involve any personalization beyond the salutation.

Renewal mailings tend to be more involved, and may include personalized salutations, personalized ask strings based on the donor's previous giving levels and personalization in the body of the letter.

Acquisition mailings are usually mailed to everyone on a prospect list.

Renewal mailings are usually segmented so that each donor segment in a house list (monthly donors, major donors, lapsed donors, first-time donors) gets a different package.

Acquisition mailings often include premiums (personalized note pads, return address labels, greeting cards).

Renewal mailings rely less on premiums. FREQUENCY
Acquisition mailings are mailed only a few times a year (somewhere between one and four times a year).

Renewal mailings are mailed around six times a year and as often as 12 times a year.

Acquisition mailings tend to generate acceptable response rates of between 0.5% and 2.5%.

Renewal mailings tend to generate acceptable response rates of between 6% and 12%, sometimes as high as 20%.

Acquisition mailings usually lose money (but gain donors).

Renewal mailings almost always generate a net return.

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Direct Fundraising Tips - By Scott Swedenburg

Spring Showers 

Value of a Donor 

In the movie Tombstone, Val Kilmer plays the role of Doc Holiday, a man who’s very hard to like. Toward the end of the movie, Cowboy Jack asks Doc why he’s risking his life to help Wyatt Earp. 

The conversation goes like this:           

Cowboy Jack:

Why are you here, Doc?

Doc Holiday:

Wyatt’s my friend.

Cowboy Jack:

Heck, I’ve got lots of friends.

Doc Holiday:

Well, I don’t.

 Cowboy Jack took his friends for granted. Doc Holiday valued every friend he had. 

These are challenging times. Acquiring new donors is becoming harder and harder. Take Doc’s advice – value every donor.  

I’d hate to see your organization on Boot Hill. 

Sync Up 

Harry Potter will always outsell a reference book. Your better fundraisers have long known that telling stories works much better than stating facts. We are moved by stories to take action – buy a product, get in shape, and most importantly donate money.


Why? The answer is neural coupling. And no, I’m not promoting a new online dating service.


Stories allow our brains to sync up. Studies show that stories help the brain of the listener to connect with the brain of the speaker. 


Do your donors need a little neural coupling? Tell them a story. 

Loops or No Loops 

Which is better - serif or san serifResearch suggests the loops win. When presenting facts to students in 12-point Bodoni font versus 16-point Arial, they recalled 87% of the facts in Bodoni compared to 73% of the facts in Arial.  

  1. Bodoni                                                Arial 

The researchers also tested other serif and san serif fonts only to find the same results. Why? They believe people remember more when have to slow down to read something. The less legible font caused them to read more carefully. 

 You can always take this to an extreme, but next time you’re writing a letter or designing copy on your website. Pick a serif. 

Loops do look good. 


I’ll be at the Association of Gospel Rescue Mission’s annual conference in Orlando this May. Will I see you? 

Also, you can hear me speak at the Alabama AFP meeting June 11th. Love for you to join us.  

Looking for an entertaining, engaging speaker on Fundraising Trends, Investing in Your Donors? Call Zig Ziglar. If he’s busy, call Scott Swedenburg at 205-949-2451. 

For information on having me speak or ordering copies of my book, Lessons From a Mama’s Boy, please call, e-mail or visit my website 

Visit Mail Enterprises’ blog or get RSS feed at\newsblog.asp

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Direct Mail Promotions Catch the Eye

March 21, 2012 -- Marketing research firm Ask Your Target Market (AYTM) recently undertook a survey examining the effectiveness of direct mail -- Are customers more likely to look at their mail than they are at emails? Make purchases based on offers received?

Surveying 400 U.S. adults online panel participants, they found: 

  • Nearly one in five (17%) respondents receive advertisements or special offers from businesses via direct mail every day. One third (33%) say they receive this type of mail fairly often, 33% receive direct mailings sometimes, and 17% say they rarely or never get direct mailings.
  • Of those who receive direct mail from businesses:
  • 6% say they always read the printed mailings
  • 23% say they read it more often than not
  • 33% say they read it about half the time
  • 35% state they rarely read it
  • 4% don’t ever read mail from businesses.
  • When it comes to making purchases:
  • 21% say they are more likely to purchase based on direct mail promotions rather than email offers
  • 13% are more likely to make purchases based on email offers rather than direct mail offers
  • 38% said it makes no difference – they are just as likely to make purchases based on direct mail offers as they are to do so based on email promotions
  • 28% claim they never make purchases based on direct mail or email messages.
  • Of those who indicated they make purchases based on direct mail, coupons and exclusive deals overwhelmingly catch the consumer's attention.
Source:  AYTM
As stated by AYTM's Anne Pilon, “Electronic communication may be a cheaper, easier option for many businesses, but it seems that some Americans might still respond well to receiving direct mail instead.”

Source: AYTM, Direct Mail Survey: Some Customers Still Prefer Mail to Email, March 21, 2012.

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The traditional (and frankly easiest) way to evaluate a direct mail program is to determine net revenue and the number of donors you keep, gain, and lose.  A mature and well managed program will invest in acquisition, end the year with more donors and, if you are really good, achieve an overall higher average gift to boot.  Results are evaluated annually or semi-annually to inform the next budget cycle strategy.  If this is your approach to valuing your mail program you will be challenged to sell greater investment in the program to your boss… especially these days.
Consider taking a longer, more detailed, and sophisticated view of direct mail value.  While all of the above is obviously important, it is important to acknowledge that “unexpected” windfalls, such as significant bequests, are often from longtime $25 direct mail donors.  These are the ultimate rewards from a regular mail solicitation program that keeps your mission and need for philanthropy in front of your lower profile and oftenoverlooked donors and stakeholders.
Assuming that gifts like these are rarely direct-mail-driven ignores a striking reality:  your donor file contains wealthy people who give you - and many other organizations - money regularly.  Even billionaires write $100 checks!  The size of their gifts may not elevate them to your attention, but it is your job to find those high net worth donors hiding in your file and to do something about them.
Stories abound about the gift officer who picked up the phone to thank a donor for his/her large mail gift or loyal giving and ended up with a new friend, a larger donor, and sometimes a new major donor. Here are some key questions for consideration in regards to direct mail and fundraising:    
  • Should the $2.5 million gift made by a $1,000 direct mail donor five years after her initial, $25 response to an acquisition letter, be “credited” to direct mail?  
  • What about the $1 million campaign gift from a donor referred to your group by one of your low dollar mail donors?  
  • And what about those bequests? 
The correct answer to all the above is “YES!”   But of course, let’s also be careful to credit these gifts to the organization as a whole:  to all the programs that touched the donor.  The profession of fundraising will be able to achieve its greatest success  when all development folks come out of their job-title silos and take a collaborative view on performance.  And in this context, direct mail undeniably sets up and contributes to major and planned giving success!
A properly integrated development office will identify these targeted mail donors through wealth screening and has the staff to make personal contact with them and plumb the potential to elevate them to greater generosity and involvement.  The annual giving officers are central to feeding the major gift pipeline, and the direct mail program gives them “grist for the mill”.
If your in-house mail program is not growing net revenue and increasing the pool of active donors from year to year, you should consider bringing in an expert to help turn things around.  Whether you hire a dedicated staff specialist or an experienced direct response consultant, you need someone who can look beyond the typical metrics that define mediocrity, and offer integrated wisdom and technique to ensure that direct mail becomes an effective and productive incubator for your major and planned gift donor portfolio. 
And here’s the silver lining:  Your can now re-task and retrain the annual giving staff (formerly assigned to direct mail) to take personal engagement to the next level, meet with prospective major donors, and ask for larger gifts.  This is why we call it “development” and not simply “fundraising.”
Your takes:
  1. The true value of your direct mail program far exceeds the number of dollars and donors generated per each campaign.
  2. Your best and next gift just might come from a regular, but under the radar, direct mail donor.  It's time to re-examine who should be on your prospect radar.
  3. Consider bringing in direct mail expertise to realign, integrate, and optimize your direct mail program.  Dollar for dollar, it could be one of the wisest investments you make. 
For more information about Copley Raff and its spectrum of not for profit consulting services, please see

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Recover Your Lapsed Direct Mail Donors Before They Lapse

Alan Sharpe - The Expert Fundraiser

When is the best time to recover a lapsed donor? Before they lapse. Using a "pre-lapsed donor letter."

I heard of a non-profit organization that mails a special letter to all donors who are at risk of lapsing. This organization has found that pre-lapsed donor letters are effective at preventing some donors from lapsing. Here's how you can implement a similar system for your organization.

Watch your database for donors who are approaching your lapsed-donor threshold. For most organizations, an active donor becomes a lapsed donor when that donor does not mail a gift for over 12 months. So watch your database for donors who are approaching this zone.

Run a manual query, or write a script that queries your database automatically (weekly or monthly), looking for all donors who are about to lapse. Decide how soon you want to know. In other words, decide how much notice you want to receive before donors lapse. The longer a donor has lapsed, the less likely you are to recover them again.

Running this query regularly will alert you to those active donors who are about to lapse unless you take remedial action. Flag these donors for special attention. Getting a donation from a current donors is five to eight times more cost effective than getting a donation of the same size from a stranger. So retaining your donors is vital.

Once you have a system in place for recognizing donors before they lapse, create a letter or series of steps that you will take to keep the donor active.

The most effective method of preventing donors from lapsing is a personal phone call from you. Use the phone to contact your most valuable donors. For those donors for whom a phone call would be too expensive (for you), write them a letter instead.

Craft a compelling letter that persuades these at-risk donors to renew their support. Your letter should:

  1. Acknowledge the donor's past gifts and thank them for their support
  2. Explain that you have not heard from them for some time (give the number of months if you want)
  3. Describe in detail how much their continued support means to you and the people you serve
  4. Consider offering an incentive for them to renew their support (a book, DVD, discount, free admission, special member benefit or other attractive premium)

More tips like this are available in How to Recover Your Lapsed Direct Mail Donors, Handbook 22 in the popular Hands-On Fundraising Series from Andrew Spencer Publishing. Discover the financial rewards, savings and long-term benefits of wooing and winning your donors all over again using direct mail. Learn more.  
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USPS to cut costs instead of closing offices

May 09, 2012

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has announced today an alternative planaimed at cutting costs to keep small post offices open, confirmed Sue Brennan, USPS senior public relations representative. USPS has also implemented a voluntary moratorium on all postal facility closings through May 15 and an early-retirement incentive for more than 21,000 non-executive postmasters.

“After conducting more than 4,000 community meetings, we heard from customers very clearly that they want to retain their post office in their town,” said Brennan in an email. “After viewing the offices, it was determined that we could retain offices, but with modified hours and still save money.”

The plan aims to save $500 million annually by modifying the retail window hours to match customer use, rather than close rural post offices, according to a USPS release. Brennan did not elaborate on exactly by how much the hours would be modified. Access to retail lobby and PO Boxes will remain unchanged and the town's zip code and community identity will be retained.

The new strategy will be implemented over two years and completed by September 2014. The USPS will file a request with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) later in May for an advisory opinion and to review the plan before making changes.

“The post offices in rural America will remain open unless a community has a strong preference for one of the other options,” said USPS chief operating officer Megan Brennan in a statement.

The suggested measures complement existing alternatives, which include providing mail delivery service by rural carrier or highway contract route to residents and businesses in areas originally targeted for office closures; partnering with local establishments to provide services; and offering service from a nearby post office.

During the 2012 National Postal Forum (NPF) in Orlando in May, Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stromanalluded that the closure of brick-and-motar locations was inevitable.

In July 2011, USPS announced that nearly 3,700 post offices would be studied for potential closures in the wake of continued mail volume decline, ongoing financial challenges and changing customer behavior. USPS held thousands of community meetings and conducted a study in affected locations, which it then used to construct the alternative plan, according to a separate statement.

After the U.S. Senate approved legislation intended to reform laws that govern the postal service at the end of April, Thurgood Marshall Jr., chairman of the USPS board of governors said that the USPS loses $25 million every day and asked the Senate for help to put the postal service back on the path to financial stability.

The "bottom line is that the Senate bill does not provide the postal service with the flexibility and speed it needs to have a sustainable business model,” Marshall said.

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Membership Has Its Privileges

Posted on Sunday Apr 1st at 12:23pm

The ball drops in Times Square, and next thing you know, Chez Seville is lousy with membership cards. Over the course of about six weeks, I received member/partner/supporter cards from 18 different organizations.

Huh, I thought, looks like an opportunity for a completely unscientific, limited study of what's going on in the world of membership cards.

Of the 18 packages, 14 were mailed in white No. 10 envelopes, eight of which had a large second window with the card showing through. One used a pistol window to show the card, and two others had a peekaboo window showing only part of the card. Two of the three No. 10s with a single addressing window said nothing about the card at all while the third teased: "2012 Partnership Card Enclosed."

Breaking away from the No. 10 pack, the USO mailed my card in a teaserless, closed-face, white 6-inch-by-9-inch, Native American Rights Fund(NARF) sent a four-color double window 6-inch-by-9-inch, the International Fund for Animal Welfare mailed a double window 6-inch-by-9.25-inch, and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) used a 4.5-inch-by-9-inch white envelope with an oversized addressing window but no teaser about the card.

Tally that all up, and 14 of the 18 mailers showed some or all of the card or teased about it. No surprising finding there. DAV's package included not only a membership card but also gold foil seals, a notepad, a four-color certificate with gold foil and a thank-you card, so it's understandable why DAV didn't plug the membership card.

The National Wildlife Federation, NARF and USO sent the most expensive cards, plastic and embossed with my name like a credit card, and DAV's was plastic but not embossed. The split between tipped-on cards and paper perf-outs was even at seven each. All but four of the cards were four-color. Ten cards were on the reply device, three attached to the letter, and five on forms that included both letter and reply.

What to do with the card?

"Please keep it as a reminder of the important role you've played …" "You can keep your partner card with you to let others know that you are taking action …" "Inside this package you'll find your personalized Membership Card for 2012 that I hope you will carry with you proudly." "Keep the card as a reminder of your commitment …" "Carry Your 2012 Card with Purpose." "Carry Your Card Proudly!" "PLEASE VALIDATE YOUR CARD TODAY BY SIGNING IT."

Many mailers indicated they sent the card in anticipation of my renewal but didn't tell me what to do with it. Some said nothing about the card at all.

But there were two genuine standouts: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and DAV.

ASPCA's four-page letter didn't mention the card at all. But on the reply beside the card, copy read, "Please complete the information on the back of your membership card and carry it with you at all times." On the back of the card, it read, "IMPORTANT NOTICE: PLEASE HELP MY PETS. I have pets in my home waiting for me. If for any reason I am unable to return home to care for my pets, please notify the following:"

This is one of those direct-mail moments when we call upon the willing suspension of disbelief, because if a law enforcement officer, rescue worker or medical professional is rifling through my wallet looking for emergency contact information, I'm pretty sure he's going to bypass my ASPCA membership card.

But kudos to ASPCA for giving the card more than the standard "carry it with pride" purposelessness.

A winning letter

DAV's package didn't tell me anything new to do with the card, but the letter rocks.

"Dear Kimberly,

"… did you know that almost 97% of Americans look the other way when we ask for help?

"As a DAV Supporter, you're in a truly elite group. You're the one who doesn't turn away … who hasn't forgotten the sacrifices our disabled vets made for you."

The letter thanked me on behalf of 3 million disabled vets — 131,776 of whom are right here in my state — and then invited me to join the Commanders Club.

"Its members are our top givers … the Americans with the best memories … who refuse to forget what our disabled vets did for them. In fact, the givers in your region are our best donors! Our Campaign Chairman, Gene Murphy, is very proud of your group from [State]."

Then later: "The campaign slogan is 'Never Quit'. You're no quitter either, Kimberly."

It wasn't until I'd been good and buttered up that we got to the card on page two.

"I've enclosed your 2012 Commanders Club Card and Certificate. To me, they're like little badges of honor. They tell everyone who sees them that you are on our side … replacing despair and discouragement with new hope and opportunities for the men and women who fought for us."

The postscript closed up the letter with a couple of twists on the usual lines, hyping the unusually special nature of DAV's card:

"P.S. I've enclosed a Certificate and a 2012 Collector's Edition of our Commanders Club card. If you join, put the certificate where everyone can see it. It's a badge of honor that sets you apart from the other 97% of Americans who choose to look the other way when we ask for help. And the card? Carry it proudly. It's our New Commemorative Collector's Edition. It's distinctive — just like you!"

So what's to learn from all this?

Is your membership card offer performing well, or is response falling off? If you've always mailed your member/partner/supporter card offer early in the new year when "everybody's doing it," try testing timing.

When's the last time you tested formats? Card on the letter versus card on the reply, No. 10 versus any other size, membership card alone versus with a certificate (and/or labels, and/or note cards, and/or notepads, etc.), perf-out versus tip-on versus lasered plastic versus embossed plastic, etc.? And images matter, as many test results have proven, so testing card designs should be in the mix. With so much competition, testing has to be a huge priority. FS

Kimberly Seville

is a creative strategist and freelance copywriter. Reach her at
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  • Five Direct Mail Donor Acquisition Blunders to Avoid
  • From Expert Fundraiser Alan Sharpe

Five Direct Mail Donor Acquisition Blunders to Avoid Woody Allen once said that "80 percent of success is just showing up."

He was wrong, of course.

Just showing up in your prospective donor's mailbox will not guarantee your success any more than just showing up for an interview will land you a job or just showing up at a front door will land you a date. Acquiring donors with direct mail fundraising letters is complicated and time consuming, and expensive if you do it wrong. Here are five common mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1: Not mailing to enough people
Direct mail fundraising works best when you mail to tens of thousands of donors repeatedly over time asking for small donations. The smaller your list is, the higher your costs are per piece, per dollar raised and per donor acquired. When your response rate is only one percent, you need to mail in the tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, to acquire enough donors to make your efforts worthwhile.

Mistake #2: Expecting acquisition mailings to raise money
You should expect your direct mail acquisition mailings to lose money. Direct mail donor acquisition mailings almost never raise net revenue. They gain new donors, yes, but usually at a cost of spending $1.25 to raise $1. Acquisition letters are designed to raise donors, not donations, friends, not funds.

Mistake #3: Using fundraising letters to promote an obscure cause
Direct mail is an effective way to raise funds when you have a cause that has broad appeal, either locally or nationally, such as heart disease, sick children or abandoned pets. If your organization is small or obscure, don't expect to even break even with direct mail donor acquisition. You won't.

Mistake #4: Writing a short letter
The biggest myth in direct mail fundraising is that people don't read long letters. People read what interests them, and they read for as long as something interests them. If your lover mailed you a hand-written letter from overseas, would you prefer one page or four? Donor acquisition letters need to be longer than one page because you are starting from zero. You have no relationship with the potential donor. They don't know you personally. A few paragraphs on one side of a sheet of paper may work for friends, but not strangers.

Mistake #5: Not differentiating yourself from competitors
What's the difference between the Cancer Research & Treatment Fund (New York), the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation (Virginia) and the National Foundation for Cancer Research (Maryland). If a prospective donor received an appeal letter from each of these charities on the same day, would she know which one to support? If you have a competitor, locally or nationally, you must tell potential donors and the public how you are unique or you won't raise funds and you won't last.

Learn more
Read Pushing the Envelope: Proven tactics for raising more money with direct mail fundraising letters, Attract New Donors and Members with a Magnetic Direct Mail Donor Acquisition Package, Mail Superiority: How to Run a Profitable Annual Direct Mail Fundraising Letter Program

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Every little tip helps... Tim Kennon

How to boost your direct mail response rates - Denver Business Journal

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