“Why do you mail so often? I don’t need all those letters.”

Hearing something like this from a donor can give a nonprofit pause about how much mail they’re sending out.

But even if your supporters might think they’re receiving too much mail, donor behavior tells another story. Many nonprofits have experimented with decreased mailing schedules, almost always with the same result: a corresponding drop-off in donations.

Author and fundraising expert Tom Ahern wrote recently that while attending a very high-level fundraising conference he was surprised by what the experts were saying about the optimal number of solicitations to send per year.

A colleague answered that 20 times per year was the optimal number, while another speaker said that their testing showed 21 was the maximum, with further appeals showing decreasing returns. Another veteran fundraiser believed the “sweet spot” was 36 annual appeals.

The key takeaway according to Ahern: “Over-solicitation is probably NOT your charity’s problem.”

Grizzard Communications performed an interesting test of the question in 2014. Donors who gave more than $500 annually were asked how often they would like to receive appeals. The 37 percent who replied requested between one and three mailings per year. Tracking subsequent donor behavior revealed that those who received the full twelve solicitations per year donated 35 percent more on average.

Why the disconnect?

First, and most obviously, donors respond to different appeals. Not everyone who supports Project A is equally excited about Project B.

Second, timing matters. The reason so many nonprofits focus on the holidays is because this is by far the biggest season for giving. Still, each donor may respond due to other factors that come up during the year, and since we can’t know with certainty what is the best time for every donor, frequent solicitations are the best guarantee that your donors will see your message at the time that is best for them.

If they are donating to you, they support what you are doing, and you shouldn’t be shy about asking for even more support. It is important to respect donors’ wishes and limit mailings when specifically requested, but most organizations have room to grow if the goal is to maximize return on investment from their donor file.

So, remember, your donors give because they love your cause. If you send them less appeals, they will hear less about what they love and end up sending you less money. If your non-profit receives less money you will not be able to do as much good. It’s that difference you are making that caused the donor to fall in love with the good your non-profit is doing in the first place. 

Don’t make it easy for your donors to fall out of love.


For help with developing your next fundraising campaign, contact LDMI today.