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Fundraising reprogramming

publication date: Jan 22, 2013
author/source: Jonathon Grapsas

I received a gentle reminder last week that what we do as direct response fundraisers really is counter-intuitive, and in many ways, nonsensical.Jonathon Grapsas

We’ve just had two brilliant people join our team. And here I was on the first day of their induction chatting about about the environmental landscape of direct response fundraising. 

What really struck me as we were talking was the regular jaw-dropping as I reeled off insights and learnings gleaned over the years. Paranoia began to set in as I wondered if part of my lunch was still plastered to my face, or whether I did in fact have a second head.

Neither was true. Instead, I’ve realized that I was completely reprogramming the way these early 20-somethings thought about the fundraising world.

Counter-intuitive but proven

To me the following insights make complete sense. I live and breathe this stuff daily.

  • Choice is paralyzing. A single focus results in more responses.
  • Recruiting donors on the street is the most successful form of monthly giving recruitment around the world.
  • A really good long letter will always beat a really good short letter.
  • The supporter most likely to give to your appeal is the one who most recently gave.

But to our newest team members, all this was completely foreign and took some intellectual readjusting.

It doesn’t always “make sense”

Fundraising can be, and largely is instinctual. You’re really nice to people, give them a chance to support something they care about, ask them, thank them, care for them.

Fundraising (direct response particularly) can also be somewhat unnatural and in conflict with every sense of logic we have.

Surely if I give someone more response choices they’re more likely to donate?

I find it hard to believe those annoying people on the street actually sign up lots of donors!

Just send me a short letter and get to the point.

Your common sense doesn’t matter

Don’t be one of those people who say, “I wouldn’t respond to this,” or “I don’t like it.” More than likely, you aren’t the audience.

Listen to data, not just your instinct. Often they will be at odds, and direct response is about what the data says, not what you think it might say.

Gravitate toward people who know their stuff. Again, make sure they have the data to back it up.

Test, test and keep testing.

And above all, have an open mind.

Jonathon Grapsas is the founder and director at flat earth direct, an agency dedicated to fundraising and campaigning for good causes. Jonathon spends his time working with charities around the world focused on digital, direct response and campaign tactics.

For more information, email him, follow him on Twitter or check out

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