“You’re Always Asking for Money” - Mastering the Ask-to-Touchpoint Ratio™ to Avoid Donor FatigueAug 23, 2021
“You’re Always Asking for Money”
Has a donor or friend ever told you “you are always asking for money”? In over a decade, I have never once worked with or for an organization that did not have the “asking too often” concern expressed. Hearing the criticism regularly formed my opinion that every organization will inevitably have “that” person.
I tell nonprofit leaders if nobody is saying you ask too often, then you either aren’t asking enough or you do not have a large enough audience! If your audience is large enough or if you ask for donations several times in a year (which you should), then someone is bound to complain about it. One person’s criticism is not what you need to be concerned about, however, it should cause us to pause and ask the deeper questions… Are you asking for money too often? How often should you ask? What do we do besides ask? How do our donors feel?
The Science Behind How Often to Ask
There is some science to how often you should ask. Surprisingly, science says it’s more important to look at when you don’t ask. I turned the formula into a simple ratio called “The Ask-to-Touchpoint Ratio.™” Here is how it works. It’s not how often you ask, it’s what happens between asks that will save your audience from donor fatigue. If you ask for money, then wait three months and ask again, the donor will feel like “all you ever do is ask for money” because… all you do is ask! My formula says that for every ask, you need at least four non-ask touchpoints in order to avoid donor fatigue. If you do the math, you are actually following the 80/20 principle here. 80% of your giving will come from 20% of your communications! This level of communication may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember… “All successful fundraising comes from successful communication.™”
Types of “Asks”
To understand the formula, we first need to be on the same page regarding what an “ask” is.
I used to call this the “appeal” to “touchpoint” ratio, but that language was less accurate because asking for support is not always done in an appeal letter. There are two main types of “asks”
- Hard Ask
- Soft Ask
Depending on the personality of the fundraising professional, they will tend to favor one over the other. However, just like the fundraiser has a preference, so do donors. Some donors want you to be direct and ask for exactly what you need: “How do I know what you need if you do not ask?” Others simply want to be given the opportunity: “I don’t need to be guilted into giving, if you make it easy for me then I will give when I am ready, no need to be pushy.” Therefore, it is important to balance your soft and hard asks as well.
What I call a “hard ask” is sometimes referred to as a “direct ask” because it’s where you directly ask for support. “Please make a donation today to save the life of a starving child.” We need hard, straightforward asks at times. Organizations that fail to utilize a hard ask are significantly limiting their revenue.
"Soft asks," on the other hand, are sometimes referred to as “implied asks” or “suggestive appeals” because they are giving your donor the ideas that they can give, but are less than direct. For example, including a remittance envelope in your newsletter. Putting a “donate now” button at the button of an email where you are not asking. Soft asks are important and failure to utilize these properly will result in your audience feeling you are pushy. However, utilizing these too often will result in a lack of action on the part of many of your donors.
Mastering the Ratio
So, if the Ask-to-Touchpoint Ratio says you much have four touchpoints for every ask, what about hard asks vs soft asks. I ratio works best with “ask” being ONE hard ask and using ONE soft ask as a touchpoint. Remember, different donors respond to different asks. In practice, I usually follow every ask with a “Report and Remind™” type communication.
Quick Example: “Thanks to the generosity of XYZ donors, our annual appeal, which started last month, is going well. We've raised $80,000 so far and still need $20,000 by _____ to meet our goal of securing ten scholarships for deserving at-risk young people.” Remember to put a “Support Our Annual Fund” button at bottom of the email.
Measuring Your Ratio
You take your donor group - say major donors - and you map out the communications you will have with them for the next year. Then you put an H, S, or T next to each. Total them up, and see what you get. You should have three T’s (touchpoints) and one S (soft ask) for every H (hard ask).
Notice that I never told you how many times in a year you could or should ask. The number of asks depends on your organization’s needs and cash flow as well as manpower. The more you ask the more you need to communicate. I suggest a minimum of 2 times per year to keep your organization top-of-mind to your audience.
Also, note that I never told you whether your touchpoint was direct mail, email, handwritten note, phone call, video, etc. That also depends on your organization and audience. They all count!
I find that for most organizations it works well to ask quarterly; for smaller organizations, I encourage you to have two of the four quarters as targeted campaigns to a small group (such as lapsed donors, major donors, small donors, event attendees, etc.) that you want to grow). In that way, most contacts get asked TWICE, while others get asked THREE times in a year.
Here is an example of the quarterly asks from an actual client:
- Q1: Split Campaign:
- Lapsed Donor Appeal - only to lapsed donors
- Major Donor Appeal - one-on-one meeting with major donors regarding their gift for the year so you can report throughout the year
- Q2: Small Donor Appeal - to everyone who has given less than $100 once-time or $1,000 lifetime PLUS non-banquet attendees (out of zipcode range).
- Q3: Banquet - ALL contacts within 50 miles and past attendees
- Q4: Calendar Year-End Appeal - ALL contacts
With a quarterly ask, you would need to have 12-16 other touchpoints throughout the year. Here are some of the most popular efforts other nonprofits are undertaking to serve as touchpoints:
- “Report and Remind™” following every appeal
- Newsletter (Direct Mail and/or Email)
- Phone Calls
- Cards (Birthdays, Anniversaries, Donation Anniversaries, Sponsorship Anniversaries, Retirement, Get Well, Sympathy, Milestones, Holidays, etc.)
- Thank Yous (Tax Receipts, Hand Written Thank You Note, Phone Call, Thank You from Board, Annual Giving Summary, etc.)
- Annual Donor Appreciation Event (Invite, Reminder, Event Itself, Follow-Up)
- Impact Stories (Client Stories, Benefit Stories, Alumni Stories, etc.)
- Donor Highlights or Awards
- Event Invitations and Reminders
- Impact Report - Annual Summary of Impact
- State of the Organization Report (or School, Ministry, Foundation, etc.)
- Surprise and Delight (a random thoughtful gift or gesture)
As you can see, you can easily fit in the 4 communications for each ask, but it takes planning, discipline, and strategy. Don’t be afraid to stick to make a plan and stick to it. That’s where your success in increasing fundraising will come from.