A Note to Leaders

Leader compose letter

This is a note to Leaders of organizations who want to raise more money this year through the mail and email, or who need to raise more money through mail and email because you are still unable to have events and meet with donors. 

You’ll raise more money faster if you can cultivate an attitude that each piece of mail or email your organization sends out is an experiment and an opportunity to get better.

Organizations that get better at direct response quickly do not treat every piece of fundraising as precious.  They look at each piece as:

  • An opportunity to raise money
  • An experiment that might work
  • A data-producing effort that will be learned from
  • A chance to stay “top of mind” with their donor (in contrast to all those organizations that “go dark” for weeks and months at a time)

And here’s what I see in organizations that do not get better quickly:

  • A belief that each piece is something precious.
  • A deep fear of offending anybody, and a belief that any offense would cause outsized negative consequences. 
  • Large approval teams. Everyone who sees it is allowed to make changes.

A Structure for Quick Improvement

It’s probably too much to ask a blog post to change the beliefs an organization has about mail and email fundraising, the “story they tell themselves” about mail and email fundraising.

But here is a structural recommendation for how the fundraising gets created that can help…

  • After a draft of an appeal or e-appeal is created, a very small number of people review it.
  • Reviewers can submit suggested changes, but not make changes.
  • No more than three people are allowed to make changes, and preferably fewer.
  • If a Reviewer’s suggested edits or changes are not accepted, they are told why.
  • After appeals or e-appeals are sent to donors, anyone in the organization can comment on it.  The person in charge of the fundraising decides whether to take the comments into consideration for future fundraising, or not.

Cascading Benefits

This structure has several cascading benefits…

The person or team who creates the fundraising saves time and can focus on their expertise  →  The team then creates more pieces of fundraising  →  This allows more fundraising to be sent to donors  →  This speeds up the pace of learning what works and what doesn’t →  This increases donations →  This increases donor retention. 

Another benefit: this structure will help you attract and retain better fundraising talent.

But you have to trust the structure and the process.  You have to trust the fundraising team.  You have to trust the skills they’ll develop.  

Show me an organization structured like this, with a team that uses data and best practices to make decisions instead of having to make the edits from Bob in Accounting, and I’ll show you an organization primed to learn quickly and raise more money in 2021.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

5 comments on “A Note to Leaders

  1. Thank you Steven – terrific post. Really appreciate the section on orgs that don’t get better, particularly the approval team (or what I refer to as death by consensus) piece! Thanks again.

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