Are you on their Automatic Recall list?


I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for “rules” that help me understand how complex systems work.

So when I saw this recently I knew I had to share it:

Automatic Recall = Relevance x Repetition

In other words, the ability of a donor to immediately recall your organization is a product of the relevance of your messages and the number of times they’ve heard your messages.

That’s a great bon mot to explain why we’re always encouraging you to communicate with your donors more often.

Automatic Recall

To be on a donor’s “automatic recall” list means she can name your organization, without prompting, when she’s asked for the organizations she donates to.

It means that if she suddenly came into some extra funds – an inheritance, a bonus from work, etc. – your organization would be one of the first that come to mind to give a gift to.

It means that if she receives a letter or email from your organization, she’s more likely to open and read it.

Not every organization a donor donates to will make it on her automatic recall list. For example, when your nephew does a peer-to-peer fundraiser and you donate $25, that organization will most likely not be on your automatic recall list.

As fundraisers, one of our goals is to get on the automatic recall list of as many of our donors as possible.

So how do we get on that list?

Relevance of Your Messages

How “relevant” are your fundraising messages to your donors?

Because here are the things your donor cares about, in order of importance:

  1. Themselves — even the most generous among us tend to care more about ourselves, our families, our jobs, whether we’re living up to our ideals, etc.
  2. Your Beneficiaries or your Cause — something about your beneficiaries or cause piqued the interest or passion of your donors, and your donors were interested in your beneficiaries or cause before they ever heard of your organization.
  3. Your organization — your organization is a tool your donor uses to 1) live up to their ideals, and to 2) help the beneficiaries or the cause.

So to be the most relevant, your fundraising messages need to be about the donor reading or hearing it, then about the beneficiaries or the cause, and then about your organization.

If your fundraising is mostly about your organization – or if most things in your fundraising are shared in the context of your organization – you’re not scoring well on “relevance.”

Which means you’re not on your way to getting on many people’s “automatic recall” list.

But if you ARE crafting your fundraising messages to be mostly about your donors and the beneficiaries or cause, you’re halfway to breakthrough success…

Repetition of Your Message

Do your donors see your messages often enough to remember them?

The more times your donor sees a relevant message from you, the more she is likely to have a favorable impression of your organization.

That’s not going to happen with two or three appeals a year, plus a handful of emails.

And remember, you can always communicate with your donors more than you think you can.

Do You Want to Grow?

Most everybody already has a few donors that would put your organization on their automatic recall list.

In most cases, those folks have you on automatic recall because of proximity; they tend to be family members, or that group of initial donors who helped the organization get started, or friends of the founders or staff, or longtime community members.

But if you want to scale your organization or ministry, you need to increase the relevance and repetition of your fundraising communications.

Doing so will result in raising more money right away, and in the long run. It’s win-win.


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.

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