How Often Should Nonprofits Ask for Donations?

If you are a nonprofit organization, you are looking year-round for creative and respectable ways in which to solicit donations from your donor base. Your mission depends on the generosity of others and the job of finding these precious resources never ends. 


All of our strategies from the books we’ve read to the seminars we’ve attended lead to confusion and frustration especially when they are balanced with anecdotal evidence from the president or the board of directors. Charles calls the president and says, “Jim, you’re asking too often, I’ll give at year-end and no other time.” So, the president sends a memo to Alice and Joe in the development office to take Charles off of lists C, M, Z and only have him on list X. 

Since no one calls the president to fuss about not getting enough appeals, we think that perhaps there is a limit that should not be crossed?

And then a bunch of people respond to the last week of a long fundraising campaign and so the staff thinks that perhaps there is a saturation point that has to be reached before donors see the appeals. 

So maybe more is better?

Why are they giving in the first place? 

Your donors love what you do. So, tell them what you’ve done since the last appeal. 

It’s not how often you ask, but how often you’re interacting with your donors and closing the loop on the last ask

That sounds elementary, but not all nonprofits are so detailed in their work that they can connect appeal A with project A as in “We asked you to support the digging of a well in Myanmar and now the well has been dug and fresh water is abundant!” 

For many, the work is subtle, the timelines longer. A research institution, healthcare organization, or advocacy group has to think in terms of decades rather than quarters. And yet it’s in the short-term that the “asks” have to happen. Again, and again, and yet again. 

It’s not the frequency of the ask that’s the issue; the problem is asking supporters to give again when you have not told them what you did with their last donation.  

So there has to be some level of engagement between asks, specifically telling the donor what was done with their donation from the last request.

You’re telling a story, year-round, about the good work that you are doing. It’s probably a long story or lots of little stories and they all can’t be told in one letter. 

It’s not too often if they can’t possibly see them all

We have more vehicles to bring a message to our donors than ever before. You might be populating a Facebook and Instagram page, tweeting, updating the website, and sending  Mailchimp emails on top of letter campaigns and fundraising events.

Those who love you will still love you even if they see one too many “asks” for their liking. 

Some recommend at least four appeals per year with direct mail, at least one email per month, and as much as you like on social media. 

But the biggest problem with getting donations is that organizations don’t ask or don’t follow up to ask for another donation later.

If you don’t ask, you’re not going to get it. That’s the reality.

Donor Psychology

You don’t know the giving cycle of every donor. Someone just got an unusually large tax return, a raise, a change of heart, renewed enthusiasm. Keeping in front of them all year long is the only way to be in their minds when they are ready to give to someone or something.

But you can’t just keep asking, you have to let them know how important their gift is. Thank the donor every time you send them an appeal for their gifts, you tell them the impact this gift has made and then say, “but let me tell you another story, this is why we need your help again.”

The donor is the parent and the nonprofit is the child. If an actual child has real needs, shows gratitude and responsibility, the parent will give that child what they need, as they can, time and time again. 

Keep in mind that our target audiences tire of things far less quickly than you do. Your donors don’t live and breathe your cause.

Sometimes organizations will survey their donors and ask them how often they’d like to be approached. Most people will predictably say once a year. This is a great way to lose your donors. Why?

Because how people say they’ll behave is often quite different from the way they’ll actually behave. 

Research in psychology and neuroscience shows people are more likely to give again when they hear from you repeatedly about the impact of their giving and your gratitude for making this outcome possible.

The only way you can determine how your donors will behave is to experience it 

Large organizations that have done testing on the ideal frequency of donations are now mailing monthly, with weekly emails. Is this right for you? The only way to know is to try mailing a bit more than you’ve been doing thus far, and see what happens.

Donors who give to large organizations are often the very same prospects you are hoping to reach. They are used to hearing from the nonprofits they support on a consistent basis. So how are you going to compete for their attention?

Remember, you should always offer folks the option of unsubscribing from your mailings. When you comply with this request, you score points for doing what you say you’ll do. This builds trust. And the reality is that very few folks will decide to unsubscribe.

People may not read every mailing you send, but this doesn’t mean they don’t like receiving them. In a way, it reassures them you’re still a healthy, vibrant organization that’s out there in the community doing good things.

If you stop mailing (or mail infrequently), people are left to draw their own conclusions.

The best time to mail again is right away

Donors who make their first gift are testing you. They’re waiting to see how much you value their support and whether you’ll deliver on your “promise” to make effective use of their gift. They need to be reassured, right away, that they made a good decision.

And then there’s the fact that one of the greatest predictors of giving is recency. The first 90 days are critical. You’ll have a better likelihood of receiving a second gift if you ask then, rather than waiting a full year to ask again. By then the warm glow of giving has faded. If a donor doesn’t hear from you, it really does become a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”

What, how, and who you mail to matters

What, how, and who you mail to matters! In fact, it matters as much, or more, than how often you mail.

Instead of trying to find excuses to communicate with folks less, how about finding ways to communicate more effectively?

If your mailings are institution-centered (all about you and how great you are) you’re not going to achieve the results you’ll get if you make your appeal donor-centered (all about your donor and how they can be a hero by investing with your cause).

If your mailings are generic, and you’re not using segmentation to send the most personal, relevant appeals possible, then your appeal is not going to be as engaging as it needs to be.

If you’re sending snail mail to people whose primary means of communication is email or social media, then you’re not maximizing your chances for success. Especially if you’re targeting younger donors, an approach through social media using peer influence may work better.

Practical advice for mailings

More is usually more if you’re offering content that’s relevant, useful, hopeful, and inspiring.

If you think you should be netting an even larger profit, then it’s time to take a look at what you’re mailing, who you’re mailing to, and how you’re getting your message across.

Quarterly appeal mailings (not including newsletters) are just about the minimum for any nonprofit if you want to stay top-of-mind.

One or two emails monthly is certainly not out of bounds. As you expand services and need to raise more money, expanding the number of mailings you send makes a lot of sense.

Layering on social media to reinforce the message in your mailing is generally a good idea. Have you ever heard the maxim that someone needs to see an ad seven times before it sticks? In our digitally revolutionized world, some say this number has increased to about 21 times!

In conclusion 

Determining how often to approach your donors is not overly complicated, it just takes a bit of work. If you have something good to say about your work, say it. And say it as often as you need to get your whole story told: 

·       Get your stories together

·       Approach your donors and in the ways they want to be approached

·       Track the results

·       Refine your program

·       Approach your donors again

After a season of following this approach, you will know how often is the right number of times for your organization to ask for a donation.

A global team of digerati with offices in Washington, D.C. and Southern California, we provide digital marketing, web design, and creative for brands you know and nonprofits you love.

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