An ABC of direct response

Direct response fundraising often doesn’t make sense. It’s often simple and boring and sometimes it’s downright counter-intuitive.

Written by
Jonathon Grapsas
Added
May 21, 2013

Recently, I was asked by a colleague to pen the things I wish I had known earlier in my career; the nuggets of information that would help forge my career. So I’ve morphed this list into a kind of ABC of direct response: the key insights that can shape really effective programmes.

Knowing that what people say and do are different things.

Looking back I’ve often wished I’d understood that what people say and do can be two very different things. It didn’t take me long to figure this one out, but knowing that ‘I won’t read/respond to/give to that’ doesn’t necessarily correlate to what people do is a handy lesson to learn.

Ask yourself, how many statements do you make about things that you plan to do that you actually follow through on? Apply the same logic to fundraising. People simply respond to darn good fundraising, not just to what they think they will.

Past behaviour is the biggest predictor of future behaviour.

I’ve also learned that what someone has done in the past is the most likely indicator of what they will do in the future. Recognising this and subsequently spending more time getting this (the data) right ensures you’re fundraising will be halfway to where you want it to be.

Here’s where it can begin to be counter to our intuition. Surely if someone just responded they need some breathing space? Nope. Going back to that individual sooner rather than later ensures you’re giving yourself the best chance to identify likely donors.

Your communication should be as long as it needs to be. No longer, no shorter.

This is a well-worn adage, but still relevant. Letters shouldn’t be four pages or emails kept short because that’s what we’ve been told. They should be as long as they need to be, ensuring they tick all of your boxes for pace, interest, relevance, readability and so on. So when writing take enough room to share a story, create a need, offer a solution, ask and keep asking.

The length of your communication is irrelevant so long as the execution is spot on.

Complaints are a good thing.

Complaints indicate emotion. They show that your reader cares enough to voice his or her views. Few or no complaints usually mean you haven’t tried hard enough, haven’t pushed your reader’s comfort zones, and likely haven’t got your message across.

Lots of complaints mean that your donors really care about your cause, that you have got through to them and pulled on their emotions. You’ll generally notice a direct link between lots of noise and grievance and the volume of income raised.

The key of course is managing complaints properly, and responding promptly and fully to answer your donor’s concerns.

Be disciplined and test thoroughly.

I wish I’d realised at the start of my career how important it is to be disciplined with what you do, avoiding loads of distraction. I’m not suggesting stifling innovation, but I would encourage doing what works and doing it really well. Remember what pays the bills.

That doesn’t mean repetition necessarily rules the day. For fundraisers, testing plays a critical role. But make sure you understand what you’re setting out to test, and whether it’s something that you can learn from and apply to move your fundraising forward. Something that will have a significant impact on future income, not something merely tactical that might seem fun to test, but is a waste of time. Testing a font in blue versus black on the outer envelope isn’t going to change the world.

Ok, I’m starting to feel a little like a kid writing his Christmas wish list. I just wish I’d written this article a few years back.

© Jonathon Grapsas 2011

About the author: Jonathon Grapsas

Jonathon Grapsas

Jonathon Grapsas is the founder and director at flat earth direct, an agency dedicated to fundraising and campaigning for good causes, with a particular bias toward digital and direct response. Jonathon has spent the last decade working with charities all around the world. Initially in the UK, and more recently in Canada and his native Australia.

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