A Cautionary Tale
Last week, I told you what prompted me to become a first-time donor to a local organization. But, as we all know, keeping donors is even more important than getting new ones. Sadly, we often take this part for granted – so this week, I’m going to tell you why I asked to have my name taken off the mailing list of an organization I’ve supported for years.
I should explain that this relatively small group historically sent out their own mailings using their own stories and artwork. They had a very distinctive style that I really admired. The mailings weren’t personalized but they were clever, upbeat, succinct, and to the point. They routinely made me smile and reach for my checkbook.
Then, in an effort to expand the donor base, the leadership decided to hire a mail house. Shortly thereafter, I received a nondescript envelope that I was about to toss when I noticed the tiny organizational logo in the corner. Inside was an appeal with a picture of several animals and a paragraph of type addressed to me personally. In it, I was asked to increase my last generous donation of $32.58 to help feed and care for the animals in the pictures. Here’s what was wrong with that:
· My last gift had been considerably more than $32.58. I had recently purchased a halter for my dog in the shelter store. I’m guessing that’s where that figure came from.
· One of the animals pictured was a horse who had been living as a foster in my barn, at my expense, for several months.
Now I understand the desire to personalize, but, let’s face it, personalization is tricky business. A letter to Richard signed by a director who plays golf with his good friend Dick isn’t going to make that donor feel appreciated. Nor is an incorrect gift amount – to say nothing of the fact that I’m sure this group really didn’t want me to increase my gift to $40. These are all things that can easily happen when names and figures are picked up from a database that is not very carefully monitored or analyzed.
And asking someone to give specifically to support an animal they are already feeding and housing – well, that’s just plain careless (and could have been so easily avoided by eliminating the personalization all together or adding a real personal note saying something like, “Well, in your case, maybe not Bronc, but he’s so handsome we just had to use his picture.” Now that would have made me smile and feel good about helping).
But my point is this – using a mail house can be a terrific way to solicit new donors, but I think we have to be very careful about letting strangers solicit our major supporters, especially with so-called “personal” mailings. I can only speak for myself, but I have no problem getting completely impersonal but compelling mailings from organizations that are clearly too big to know me – even ones I’ve been giving to for years. I have no expectation that these organizations know me, and frankly I find it a little irritating when they pretend. I just want to be assured that they’re using my money well.
I don’t even expect groups with whom I do have a close relationship to send me personalized solicitations. That’s not what makes me give. But if they do send a “personal” request for funds, I think it’s important that they get it right – and that might just be too much to ask for a small organization with limited staff to maintain and merge the database.
Truth be told, I would never actually stop giving to this organization because of a mistake like this – but I’m thinking others less committed to the cause might pull away, especially if it happened repeatedly.
I guess the bottom line is – just because we have the technology to personalize doesn’t mean we should use it.
Photo 2: Courtesy of Sheila Steele