Connecting the Dots

A confession. I no longer open direct mail. But this was from a place where I had been the Executive Director—although many years ago—and I was curious what they were up to.connect-the-dots

Alas, not much.

They still had “a fabulous program” and your support will allow them to continue doing all the good work they do. As I said, I had worked there, and so I believe that they do wonderful things—but the letter would certainly not have convinced me. Nor would it make me reach into my discretionary income (which is where most annual gifts come from) to support that work.

The letter did tell me that this was “thanks to our wonderful supporters but I had no sense of why I would want to join the ranks of those supporters. There are, after all, lots of organizations that have fabulous programs and do wonderful things.   And, after almost twenty years of getting this and other direct mail appeal letters and never once responding, I feel as if they should explain why they continue to ask me to support them in a way that—clearly—is not resonating with me.

I am, I confess, surprised that no one has ever noted I used to be the CEO of this organization. Surely that might have meaning to me beyond the nebulous fabulous-ness of the programs.

Long after my daughter graduated from a private high school, I was getting appeal letters telling me how good their academic program was. I have no doubts, but they never considered that I might care less about what the academics are and more about how they helped propel my child forward.

There is so much chatter about the importance of a donor database, but I find little proof that most organizations use these tools as anything more than a tracking system and mailing list.

Segmenting your donors and prospects in even the most basic ways—those who support you now; those who supported you then; those who have never made a gift—and targeting your appeals to speak to these groups, will increase your effectiveness. Think of what real segmentation could do.

If I received a letter that said, “Twenty years ago you lead this organization and brought it to a higher level. Over the years, standing on your shoulders, we have built this organization to……..” would undoubtedly get my attention. As would something inviting me to visit the school my daughter went to in 7th and 8th grades and see how it’s changed. Truthfully, though, I would respond best to an invitation to share what the school meant to me as a parent, to my daughter as a student—what lasting affect it’s had on our lives.

Yes. All that will take more work from the staff and volunteers. And yes, it would definitely be worth it.

With all the noise that surrounds us, it takes something special—something personal—to get heard.

Until prospects hear you, they will never become donors. Nor will donors stay the course, giving to your organization over and over again. Attrition rates show us the truth of that.

Spend more time connecting the dots that create the picture will increase donor loyalty and encourage prospects that giving to you really is in their best interest.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build stronger, more engaged boards. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting. While there, subscribe to the newsletter and contact Janet for a free 30-minute consultation.


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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