The Recipe for Recall


My last post was a formula for how (and why) to get on your donor’s “automatic recall” list.

A formula is a concept – a helpful idea… but it’s not specific and actionable. And our goal here is to be specific and actionable.

So let’s get tactical. Here’s a “recipe” for smaller nonprofits for how to get on your donor’s automatic recall list.

The Classic Recipe

There’s a tried-and-true fundraising communications recipe used by nonprofits for 70 years that really works:

  • Regular relevant appeal letters
  • Regular relevant newsletters

The key here is the “regular” part. I’d say “regular” means at least six mailings over the course of the year, with more appeals than newsletters.

Today, organizations are layering in email fundraising in addition to their direct mail:

  • Regular relevant e-appeals
  • Regular relevant reporting stories

(Notice I’m not mentioning e-news. E-newsletters tend to be organization-focused and, while not negative, tend to be less helpful than Asks and Reports at helping donors reach automatic recall.)

The key, again, is the “regular” part. I’d say “regular” means about eight e-appeals and twelve reporting stories per year.

If you’re at a smaller nonprofit and those numbers seem overwhelming, please don’t worry. You can succeed with fewer communications. Plus, direct mail and email are only a part of your overall fundraising strategy.

That said, those numbers should give you a sense of what’s possible. Larger nonprofits communicate far more often than that, and they:

  • Raise a remarkable amount of money
  • Effectively identify new major donors
  • Experience the opposite of the mythical “donor fatigue” – they see high levels of donor loyalty

Every one of those bullet points is available to your organization. (Your donors aren’t any different from theirs.)

And if you’re sold on the idea of communicating more often, but doing so is a capacity / human resources issue, check out Work Less, Raise More. There are trainings that will help you create effective fundraising in 30 minutes.

Finally, know that the “recipe” mentioned above is a proven system in use today because it’s effective at helping organizations do two things:

  1. Raising money with each mailing (or email) so that you can do more of your mission
  2. Building “automatic recall” over time, which increases revenue over time by increasing your number of major donors and legacy gifts

You can communicate with your donors more than you think you can. It’s a habit you must build.

But it’s a habit you want to build, because donors in motion tend to stay in motion, and donors at rest tend to stay at rest.


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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