News & Articles

A donor complains about too much mail – what you can do

Give them a choice.

Dr Adrian Sargeant’s research has found that donors, when asked their communication preferences, tended to stay with charities longer and make bigger average gifts. Offering donors choice is a key.

In support of this, fundraiser Stephen Pidgeon explains:

“You must not do it too early, and certainly not after the first gift.

“After all, how will the new supporter know the pleasures of a stewardship program that await them? You must test it, of course, but I would ask a new supporter after nine to 12 months, when they have experienced one or two appeals, a newsletter or two, maybe a survey and an invitation to an event.”

At Pareto Fundraising, we put this into action with our charity partners. Be smart, be strategic, and be data led:

  • Don’t give every donor choice all at once. Test your choices with your least valuable donor segments so you can learn and adapt them for your most valuable segments.
  • Don’t give your donors choice across all channels in one communication. When given choice, most people may only pick one or two channels. And this will leave you unable to communicate with them in other channels.
  • Use your supporter preferences data (i.e. survey results) to understand your donor’s motivation for giving – and then adapt the choices to suit that. A donor is not likely to refuse to receive information from a charity on the things they are most interested in.
  • Ask us about a proven strategy for validating the permission status of a large dormant pool of supporters you have in your database that can unlock many new donors for you

Need some inspiration?

Offering donors choice has been the foundation of many a charity’s fundraising success. And they’ve been doing it for decades. For inspiration, check these out:

So really, how often should you mail a donor?

If there was one quick answer, we wouldn’t need to write a whole article about it. Because the truth is it’s different for every non-profit.

But as most fundraisers agree … more is usually more (provided of course your communications are hopeful, inspiring and relevant).

This is what some of our leading fundraising experts have to say about how many times you should mail your donors:

Canadian fundraiser Alan Sharpe says at least eight times a year:

“Mail at least four appeal letters and mail at least four newsletters

(or donor cultivation, donor information type pieces).”

Tom Ahern, donor communications expert says 21 times a year:

“In focus groups, veteran donors complain long and loud about being over-solicited

by their favourite charities. But if you watch their giving behaviour,

you will find they don’t stop giving as a result.”

Future Fundraising Now’s Jeff Brooks says at least 20 times a year:

“Most of the organisations I work with send 12-18 appeal letters a year,

plus three to six newsletters. A few do more than that.

If you’re communicating with donors much less than this, you’re probably not maximising your fundraising, and all your metrics, from net revenue to donor retention, are likely not where they could be.”

What is right? Lots and lots of testing

There’s no correct answer to the question of ‘how often should you mail?’ What works for your charity may not work for another.

There is only one way to find out the effectiveness of your communications program – and that’s to test it. And it’s great to test it in that critical first year when most of your donors will leave you after their first gift – even if you are communicating well.

Creating a pilot program – one that tests your journeys across different channels and measures lifetime value and retention rate – is the only way you will ever truly be able to answer the big question of, ‘how much should you mail?’

By using data and insights – not instinct – you will be able to make the best decisions for your charity.

Regular communication is important for donor loyalty

At Pareto Fundraising we use data and the insights it generates to work out what the optimum communications program should be to maximise lifetime value from donors.

The most important behavioural indicator for whether someone will give to you is whether they gave to you previously. And, the more recently someone gave, the more likely they are to give again.

So, mailing, emailing or phoning regularly means that you are constantly communicating with those most likely to become the loyal, dedicated group of donors that will help fund your non-profit.

One of the biggest causes of attrition – up to 53% according to Dr Adrian Sargeant – is the lack of communication from a charity. If they don’t hear from you, donors stop supporting your charity. It’s as simple as that.

 Never assume donors will give more … if they get less contact. 

It rarely works that way.

Also, when it comes to asking donors for a second gift, timing is important. It does vary slightly, depending on cause, channel of solicitation etc. but it’s always going to be somewhere within 90 days of that first gift.

Through benchmarking we can identify donors giving their second gift within zero-three months have the highest five-year donor value. And donor value decreases as the length of time between the first and second gift increases.

At Pareto, we took learnings from UK donor data around lifetime value and optimum conversion timings and applied it in Australia to find a similar result:

Across any given data set, increasing communications tends to increase the lifetime value of that data set. Not just short-term income, but overall giving.

Why is it then that many charities tend to under, not over-communicate with their donors?

Sometimes, the limit on the number of communications can be forced on a charity for internal reasons – the capacity to be able to produce multiple communications.

In other organisations, communication may be low because there are staff who believe reducing ‘donor fatigue’ or ‘donor burn-out’ is a priority over maximising engagement and donations from supporters. .

Donors love to help and giving feels good. Don’t take that away from them by under-communicating, however, you need to be smart and plan your touchpoints.

If you are speaking in your donors’ language and repeatedly giving them opportunity to change the world in ways that matter to them – and then thanking them and reporting back well – then you can keep up a high frequency of communication.

And, avoid the 53% donor departure rate.

So, in 2018 make your donor communications a strategy. Start by mapping your donor experience now. Talk to Pareto today about how we can use your data to drive strategy and tactics.

Book Reviews

Making money with donor newsletters By Tom Ahern,

If you’re a brand new fundraiser this book is perfect for you. If you’re already a successful and accomplished fundraiser, this book will help you use your skills even more effectively.

One of the best tools for mass cultivation is the donor newsletter. It’s one of the most efficient ways you have to speak to your entire donor base on a regular basis.

In brief, a properly prepared newsletter will add heaps to your bottom line … bring joy to your donors … and boost your charity’s donor retention to new heights, one of today’s highest priorities in fundraising.

Read Tom’s book and you’ll understand why.

The essence of this book centres around seven fatal flaws that stop many charity newsletters from being effective:

1. Newsletter fails to use the word “you” often enough

2. Newsletter skimps on emotional triggers

3. Newsletter has no news

4. Newsletter isn’t donor-centred

5. Newsletter isn’t designed for rapid skimming and browsing

6. Newsletter has weak headlines – the ‘most deadly’ of the fatal flaws

7. Newsletter depends on too many statistics to make its case.

And that’s just the beginning. There’s a lot more in this short book which makes it worth your time and money.

Our advice? If you produce a charity newsletter, get this book.  If you don’t do a newsletter, then get this book and start producing one. If you follow the principles in this book, you’ll get good results. And by that we mean net revenue.

And that’s something that all charities want.

The Tiny Essentials of Donor Loyalty by Adrian Sargeant

This book is part of a series of teeny, tiny books that have a big mission.  They focus on what really matters in one key area of fundraising management.

Each book’s purpose is to provide the essentials of its subject in an entertaining, easily digestible form, so people who wouldn’t dream of reading a business book can effortlessly and enjoyably get access to what they really need to know.

The Tiny Essentials of Donor Loyalty focuses on what every fundraiser, CEO and board member needs to know about incorporating donor retention into their fundraising strategy.

Every point made in this book has been substantiated through prior research.  Every opinion or point is based on over 20 years of work by researchers working in the fields of psychology, sociology, economics and marketing.

Adrian Sargeant himself is one of the world’s foremost authorities in the domain of non-profit marketing. No one knows more about donor loyalty and retention. And that’s why you should read this book.

In just 10 short chapters – why bother?  satisfaction, encouraging dissent, commitment, trust, identity and identification, what damages loyalty recruiting loyal donors, other issues and conclusions – Adrian Sargeant effectively sets out the blue print for understanding, overcoming and capitalising upon what he describes in his very first sentence as, … ‘the single biggest challenge facing our sector today.’

He’s not wrong. But now you can respond effectively and comprehensively to this challenge, just be spending an hour or so with this packed, but tiny, easy-to-use book.



3 things to do this year to love your donors better

Become a new donor

This January, sign up and be a supporter to your own charity. And do the same for a handful of other charities you think have great donor service.

Make a donation of varying amounts to each of the charities. Make your donations via different channels – one third by mail, one third online and one third by telephone.

Then track and follow the 90-day journey of each of these charities. Don’t forget to write down how you feel personally about each of the interactions.

Then at the end of the 90 days, report back to your team. You’ll be able to see just what your donor is experiencing at your charity – and others. The results will help you to improve your donor retention program.


It’s new to Australia!  Pareto is launching a Supporter Journey Tracker or more commonly known as mystery shopping. Using an internationally recognised and sophisticated platform, we will track your donor journey and report back to you. Our trial starts in February and our foundation partners are as excited as we are to be able to track and report on the donor experience, including face-to-face donors. You can be everywhere and report on the donor experience. Contact Clarke Vincent at Pareto for more information.


Review all your materials – across all channels

Welcomes, thank yous’, newsletters, invitations, appeal letters, emails, websites … you’ve got so many ‘touch points’ where your charity can be in direct contact with your donor.

How amazing is that. Because each touch point represents an opportunity for you to make a great impression on your donor.

That’s why all your communications should be beautifully written and full of the stories of how changes have happened because of a donor’s gift – and how that donor is making the world a better place.

So, this year, map all our donor touchpoints – and look at them carefully.  Part of great donor care is to make sure your donors are seeing the same messages – across all channels.  Inconsistency in messaging can have a real impact on donor lifetime value – and not for the better.

Clean up your data for great donor service

Meticulous record-keeping is critical to building donor relationships.

Donors expect you to maintain accurate information about them. They expect their name to be spelt correctly and their address to be accurate. They don’t want to receive duplicate mailings, or any mailings if they have asked to be removed from a list or are deceased.

Improving data quality is an investment. Yet, in countless numbers of charities its importance is ignored. In F&P Magazine in April 2015, mystery shopper Stephen Mally commented:

“I polled staff of 24 non-profit organisations, who didn’t know they were in the study, asking why they do not maintain data hygiene and data enhancement. They indicated data hygiene processes are “too hard”; impact is not appreciated by upper management, so there is no investment; and staff do not understand data hygiene so have difficulty communicating the need for it to management.”

None are solid reasons when agencies exist to help with this crucial area.

A successful charity knows that data is one of the backbones of its organisation. So, this January, make sure that your charity’s data is giving your donors the best possible service.

Need data help?

Pareto’s data services team can help you with your database clean-up, creation of your Policy & Procedures document and Data Entry standards document.

We can also help you with:

  • Address append and verification
  • Phone append and verification
  • De-duplication.

Things we like

Everything you need to know about fundraising in one photo

Four years ago, Mark Phillips in his Queer Ideas fundraising blog posted this photo:

What matters is how your donors feel.

Make them feel special and you’ll succeed.


Who is your Nana Murphy?

Meet Nana Murphy.  She’s the world’s greatest donor. 



She helped Merchants Quay Ireland achieve brilliant results in one of the worst fundraising environments that Ireland had ever known.

Nana Murphy has grey hair, pearls and wears a twin set. At a glance, she looks unlikely to change the world. But for Merchants Quay, she’s the most important person in the world.

Every piece of communication that Merchants Quay writes is written as if they are writing to Nana Murphy. They know that if Nana doesn’t like the information she receives, the communication will fail.

Why? Because Merchant’s Quay knows that Nana Murphy represents the largest donor group to the organisation.  And they know that if they want to do great fundraising, they need to know who their Nana Murphy is – and write to her about the things that are important to her.

Who is your organisation’s Nana Murphy?

It could be one of the most important things that you can find out.

Don’t make assumptions or have a guess as to who your Nana is. Do the research and find out for sure. Crunch the numbers, do donor surveys, focus groups, interviews, make telephone calls … do whatever it takes.

You may find your Nana Murphy is younger. Or that it’s a Pop, not a Nana. But chances are your donors are like most donors – 60 and older. They’re the donors who will stay with you and give you the most over time.

But either way, it doesn’t matter.

You just need to know who your Nana is.

And then meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.

Once you’ve found your organisation’s Nana, do as Merchants Quay did. Provide a cut-out of that person to every staff member to place on their desk or bulletin board, to remind you to keep your donors at the heart of everything you do. That’s the path to great fundraising.

Want to know more about Nana Murphy. You can see the full case study on the SOFII website.

5 tips to welcome new donors and keep them engaged


The ‘thank you’ letter

It’s hard to imagine in this day and age that it still happens – the failure to thank donors for their gift. Or charities that take weeks to get their thank you letters out to their donors. But the research shows otherwise.

The number one reason donors don’t give again is that they aren’t properly thanked.

Your thank you and welcome may well just be the most opened and read letter that you will ever send to your donors. So, don’t make it an afterthought.

Simply saying thank you is not enough. You have to do it properly and well.

Nearly every piece of donor research ever undertaken shows that the faster you thank and welcome each donor and make them feel appreciated, then the higher the lifetime value will be for that donor.

So, think carefully about how you treat each new donor.  They’re special … and the quality of the message matters.

Need help?

  • Visit Lisa Sargent’s Thank You Letter Clinic at SOFII. There’s lots of advice and thank you letters for you to swipe.
  • Read our earlier Pareto Talk post: Thank you: Say if often, say it right.
  • Get in touch with Pareto’s Creative Director, Mary Anne Plummer, to organise a brainstorming session on ways your charity can stand out from the crowd when thanking your supporters.

Pick up the phone

It doesn’t hurt to say thank you twice.

US fundraising researcher Penelope Burk’s 2012 research showed that if you phone to thank a new direct mail cash supporter for their gift – and make no further ask for a gift at the time – then the money that you will get from them in the following year will increase by an average of 40%.

That’s a return on investment of 3-4:1.

Even leaving a thank you message increased giving. But it’s still worth calling back at least once before you leave a message.

Pell & Bales, a major telephone fundraising agency in the UK has done similar research and the results are similar.

A simple phone call to say welcome and thank you reduced attrition for face-to-face, door-to-door, and cold telemarketing by between 30-40%.

These are significant numbers – imagine the impact they can have on your charity’s fundraising income.

The newsletter

How do we improve retention? Newsletters are part of the answer. Your newsletter doesn’t have to be fancy, but it needs to do some fundamental things.

As Tom Ahern writes in his outstanding book ‘How to make money with donor newsletters’ (read on for review), an effective donor newsletter will say:

“With your help we accomplished worthwhile things. And with your further generous support we can do even more. And without your help, we won’t accomplish nearly as much.”

So make your newsletter personal – it’s not about you, it’s about your donor.

Don’t forget to focus on readability.  Central to truly being donor-led and investing in relationship fundraising is your ability to make your communications big, bold, beautiful and unmistakably clear.  These are the principles of good design and communication.

Done well, a properly prepared newsletter will add heaps to your bottom line … bring heaps of joy to your donors … and boost your organisation’s donor retention to new heights.

The donor survey

Saying thank you and welcoming your donors properly is important.  But it’s just the first step in the donor stewardship journey.

If you want loyal donors, then it’s wise to focus on donor satisfaction – or as it’s known in the commercial world – customer service satisfaction. You need to say to your donors …

You’re important to us and we care about what you have to say.

Use a survey to find out more about your donors. People like to be asked their opinions, they like two-way interactions … so ask them about their motivations, their needs, their wants, what they think of your charity, and what they think of your communication with them.

Careful surveys seeking the views and experiences of supporters can produce valuable information.

But of course, as with anything, there are right and wrong surveys – and right and wrong ways to ask survey questions.  It’s a science, not an art, and surveys should be as data-based as the statistical analysis that should be applied to the resultant data set.

For practical advice to help your charity create an effective survey, then talk to the team at Pareto.

Ask for another donation – and do it quickly

Telephone fundraising expert Rich Fox explains why asking is the fuel that drives relationship fundraising success:

“For relationship fundraising to work, you must take financial advantage of the relationship you are building. You can’t just cultivate and cultivate without getting a payback. It’s far too expensive So you need to have an effective fundraising strategy in place at the start.

“You need a plan to move people to larger gifts, to monthly giving, to open-ended giving and to bequests and legacies.  If you don’t have those strategies in place, then you are wasting your time on building the relationship.”

If you want your donors to donate, then you need to ask for a donation.

Be confident about making that ask. Because if you have put the time and effort into your donor stewardship program then your donor:

  • Already feels part of your charity
  • Has already responded to something else – like your survey
  • Knows exactly how their gift is going to make a difference
  • Feels confident that their money is being used wisely.

But the only way to truly know how your donor stewardship program is going … is to ask.

It’s the ‘next big thing’ … but it’s nothing new

The best donor retention strategies are still the ones that everyone knows about. They’re the strategies based on the body of knowledge we have about fundraising and about donors. 

And that can be summed up in four words:

Ask, thank, report, repeat

1. Thank and welcome your new donor properly and promptly. This is where the phone can be your best friend.

2. Be specific and relevant in your thank you. Tell them why their gift was ‘just the thing’ needed.

3. Report back quickly on the impact of their gift. Donors want to know how their gift has made a difference in the world.

4. Ask again soon. Donors love to give. And your charity is an outlet for their generosity.

5. Repeat. Treat your donors well and they will want to keep giving.

Want to find new ways to surprise and delight your charity’s supporters? 

Get in touch with Pareto to organise a brainstorming session on ways your charity can boost your supporter retention program.


Where the real money is

As we launch into the last half of the financial year, what you do next may well determine if your donors stay with you through the next critical fundraising season – tax time. And beyond that too.

So, what better time to put on your donor hat and review the effectiveness of your retention program.

It’s one of the best-known pieces of fundraising research by Dr Adrian Sargeant:

“A 10% improvement in retention can yield up to 200% in projected value, as significantly more donors upgrade their giving, give in multiple ways, recommend others and ultimately perhaps, pledge a planned gift to the organisation.”

This of course doesn’t mean that you should ever stop recruiting new donors. But what it does mean is that when a new donor makes their first gift, sending a thank you letter and adding them to your database is not enough if you want them to give again.

Dr Sargeant’s research also shows that you only have about 90 days after the first donation is made to form the basis of a long-term relationship.

90 days after the first gift, the chances of retention plummet.

That’s why if you want your acquisition programs to perform, it’s critical to have an effective retention program in place. That way your first ask and your donor’s first gift won’t ever be wasted.

Fundraisers already running a successful donor retention program know that it’s tough and challenging to put in place. It requires hard work, commitment and a total organisational buy-in that you’re working for long-term results rather than short-term priorities.

But those charities who are actively stewarding first – and asking second – are being rewarded through a significant increase in the lifetime value of their donors.

Need help?

Contact Fiona McPhee or Andrew Martin to learn more about how to build a bespoke retention program for your donors.