One of the biggest stumbling blocks for many non-profits is knowing how often to ask for money. Some organizations are worried that they are asking too rarely. Many more non-profits worry that they ask too much. Is there an easy way to know how often to ask your donors for money?
While every non-profit is different and every donor is different, there is a simple rule of thumb that works for most organizations…
The 3-1 Cultivation-Ask Rule
Generally speaking, your non-profit should be cultivating your donors a minimum of 3 times in between every ask. This means that after getting a solicitation, your donors should be hearing from you – without getting an ask – 3 different times before you make another ask.
The reason for this is that your donors need to feel like they have a relationship with your organization. They need to feel like part of your team. If every communication from you is an ask, they won’t feel that warm relationship that they need to feel if you want them to have a lifelong donor relationship with your non-profit.
Thus if you send out a fundraising letter in February, and plan to send out an invitation to buy tickets for your fundraising event in June, you need to communicate with your donors three times in between the two asks. You could send out three e-mail newsletters, or one e-mail newsletter, one annual report, and send call the donor as part of your thank-a-thon… just do long as you contact them three times without making an ask before you make your next ask.
Why Your Newsletters Shouldn’t Contain Asks
The 3-1 Rule is one of the primary reasons why I advise non-profits not to include any asks in their newsletters (snail mail or e-mail). Many consultants disagree with me on this. Many non-profits like to include some type of ask in their newsletters. Others include a donor envelope (with no real ask) in their snail mail newsletters and a Donate Now button (with no real ask) in their e-mail newsletters.
I think all of these are mistakes because they turn your newsletter, which should be a cultivation opportunity, into an ask. Donors will see the donation envelope or Donate Now button and know that you hope they will make a gift. Thus, they will not see your newsletter as simple relationship-building. And what’s worse, your newsletter isn’t likely to be a very good “ask,” at least not compared to a true fundraising letter.
So let your ask letters be ask letters, and let your newsletters be pure cultivation and stewardship opportunities.
Going One Step Further With the 3-1 Rule
I like to go one step further with the 3-1 Rule. I like to break my asks down into personal asks and mass communication asks. Personal asks are asks made in person or over the phone. Your non-profit likely reserves these personal asks for major (and perhaps mid-level) donors. Mass communication asks are asks made to large groups of people, such as your fundraising letters, your fundraising e-mails, and your event invitations.
To make the 3-1 Rule even more powerful, be sure that everyone you will be asking personally (over the phone or in person) is being cultivated personally 3 times in between every ask. This means that if you ask someone for a gift in person, you should call them with updates, visit them at their office, or write them personal handwritten notes or personal one-to-one e-mails at least 3 times before your next ask.
Thus, if you have a major donor that you ask for a gift once per year in person, it’s not enough that you simply send him or her a thank you note and monthly e-mail newsletters in between asks. You need to pick up the phone and call that donor, just to say hello and give an update. Even better, stop by his or her office to drop off your annual report or just to say, “thanks for being one of our top supporters!” This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be sending these donors your mass communications (such as your e-mail newsletters)… you should!
For donors who you only ask through mass communications (such as your direct mail donors), you continue to cultivate them primarily through mass communications means (e.g. your e-mail newsletter) provided that those mass cultivation pieces truly are cultivation items, not soft asks.