imageMost larger nonprofits depend on direct marketing to raise revenue. Unfortunately, most depend on high-volume, low-cost, low-impact, low-relevance tactics to bludgeon gifts out of just enough donors to keep the program churning.

Let’s call it Stupid Fundraising. 

The old pool of duty-driven donors who responded to that stuff is dying off, and the generation replacing them is profoundly different—it demands relevance.  The time for change is now. Change won’t be easy, but for some organizations, it’s possible. Here are five steps for breaking free from Stupid Fundraising:


  1. Different lists.  A low-relevance program is built on years of fine-tuned list-testing for high-response but low-involvement donors. Sadly, relevant messaging may not work very well for those lists. Those are folks who don’t want relevance and power!

  2. Lower response rates.  When you drop your low-relevance program, you will most likely experience lower response. If you do it right, however, you’ll more than make up for the drop in response with higher average gift.

  3. Higher costs.  The small, information-light packages that drive low-relevance programs have a hard time being relevant—they just don’t have room. I’m not talking about slick, high-production packages; just some more paper so you can powerfully and convincingly make your case.

  4. Real offers.  Here’s the hard part: You need to move away from vague, generic, and symbolic fundraising offers. With the new donor, you need specificity—donor dollars making a difference. This likely takes profound, organization-shaking change—and a better grade of accountants.

  5. Vital brand.  The old-line low-relevance fundraisers usually have bland, generic, and low-impact brands, which are appropriate for the old donor. But now you need an exciting brand the promises (and delivers) significance and involvement in something exciting.

Not quick. Not easy. But necessary. Besides, who wants to keep being stupid?

imageJeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle, a direct-response agency serving the nonprofit world.  He blogs at the Donor Power Blog.