Elaine Fogel

Give Your Direct Mail Donors a Chance to Surprise You!

Guest BloggerGuest post by Jeffrey Mendola

Don’t we all love to be surprised? Well, as long as it’s something good.

Who doesn’t like to surprise someone you care about? I love surprising my wife with flowers or seeing the look on my kids’ faces when Grandma and Grandpa walk through the front door unannounced.

Happy GuyWhy shouldn’t your donors get to feel that same rush?  After all, donating is an emotional thing. It’s not like sending that check off to the great MasterCard abyss. Donors send you money because it makes them happy. So, why not let them “surprise you?”

Several years ago, I was working on a lapsed donor mailing. My direct mail marketing guy was explaining his philosophy on suggested donation amounts – those little check boxes that keep us up at night. Are we asking for too much and shooting ourselves in the foot? Are we asking for too little and “leaving money on the table” – as my old sales manager used to say?

Tom’s philosophy was that most people don’t want to pick the smallest amount – no one wants to see themselves as cheap. But, the second amount is a safe bet. Why not offer two more steps up?  Everyone loves a choice and they may have just scratched off a winning lottery ticket.

If you can variable print your mailing, then the second step should be a little higher than their last gift so that you can help them increase their support. Not too many people remember exactly how much they donated a year ago, but they know their comfort zone and about how much they usually donate. So, if Mrs. Coleman (my kindergarten teacher – bless her heart) gave $25 last year, then her suggested donation amounts would be $20, $30, $40 and $50.

And then we add the “other” box, right?  WRONG!!!!!  Selecting an “other” donation amount is about as exciting as picking the “other” one when there’s only two doughnuts left in the box. The last option should be “Surprise Us!” Every mailing I’ve done since then has offered my potential donors the option to “Surprise Us!” with a donation of a different amount.

Almost three quarters of our donors gave the second suggested amount, representing an increase over their prior gift. More than 10% of our donors “Surprised Us!” with a gift that was either a little more than that second option or a little more than the largest amount I suggested! They enjoyed “surprising us” with a little extra and I made sure I told them just that in my thank you note.

I do have to mention that a month or so after each mailing, I receive one or two replies where my donor “surprises me” with a check for $5 – but that’s still OK with me.

So, do yourself and your donors a favor. Give them a chance to SURPRISE YOU!

Do you have any donor surprise experiences to share?


Jeff Mendola


Jeffrey Mendola is the Director of Mission Advancement for New Directions Youth and Family Services. Jeff was recently recognized as a Rising Star in FundRaising Success’ 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. He is a board member and co-chair of the professional advancement committee for the WNY chapter of AFP.

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