Three Things All Direct Response Fundraisers Should Know

Direct response.

Last month I received a brilliant email from a friend.

It perfectly sums up why direct response fundraising is so hard:

“I’ve started telling people there are only three things they need to know about development.

    1. It’s the most counterintuitive thing you’ve ever done. (What people like isn’t motivational. What’s motivational, you won’t like.)
    2. The only way to know what works is A / B testing.
    3. You can spend years, and lots of $’s doing your own testing, or you can hire those who have done it and see immediate results.”

Everything you need to know to succeed in direct response fundraising is all right there.

“It’s the most counterintuitive thing you’ve ever done.”

The things most people think will work in direct response fundraising don’t work very well.

For instance, there’s the assumption that “to get a first gift from someone, that person needs to know that our organization is good at what we do.” Nope. Not true. Your organization’s effectiveness is not even in the Top 5 reasons why most new donors give a gift.

There’s another assumption that says, “we need to always tell stories of success.” Nope. Not true. You only want to do this some of the time, and less often than you think.

“The only way to know what works is A / B testing.”

The reason I can state so strongly that “your organization’s effectiveness is not in the Top 5 reasons why your new donors give” is because we’ve tested it.

We know, from direct head-to-head testing, that including content about how effective your organization is in a donor acquisition piece will reduce the number of people who respond.

You can certainly acquire donors while accentuating how effective your organization is. But you can acquire more donors if you focus your message on the things that matter more.

I was taught this as a young fundraiser in the early ‘90’s. And it’s just one of the many nuggets of wisdom available from our industry’s roughly 70 years’ worth of A / B testing. Each one of those nuggets can help you and me know how to raise the most money in a given situation.

“You can spend years, and lots of $’s doing your own testing, or you can hire those who have done it and see immediate results.”

Smart organizations are constantly looking for ways they can work less while raising more money. So they’re always looking for successes from The Fundraisers Who Have Gone Before, successes that they can apply to their organization.

Sometimes that means going to AFP seminars or spelunking on SOFII. Or purchasing the latest book from Tom Ahern, or Jeff Brooks, or Erica Waasdorp. Or hiring experts like the team at Better Fundraising.

Regardless of how you tap into all that knowledge, be sure you’re seeking out the learnings of “those who have done it” so that you can “see immediate results”!


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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