How to Make Donor Appeals in the Age of Spam

If you market for a nonprofit, you know that even once you’ve successfully acquired a new donor, your job is usually far from done. One-off donations are helpful, no doubt, but developing a base of repeat donors is crucial to the stability and growth of any charitable cause. This is easier said than done. With modern life more saturated by advertisements than ever, how do you get through to people? And how can you strike a balance between sending out consistent appeals and making prospective donors, desperate to clean up their inboxes, click “unsubscribe”?

In their research article, “On Reminder Effects, Drop-Outs and Dominance: Evidence from an Online Experiment on Charitable Giving,” authors Sonntag and Zizzo question the widely-held belief that sending a prospective donor a reminder is always helpful. “There is a common understanding among researchers that sending reminders increases response rates,” they write. “Conversely, receiving too many reminders … may even back-fire and result in less engagement and attention.”

For many of us, reminders are a part of daily life. We write birthdays on our calendars, put sticky notes on the fridge, and set our phones to notify us when an important deadline is coming up. Doctors’ offices call the day before an appointment to tell us when we need to arrive and what paperwork we’ll need to bring. These reminders help us to be more efficient, and they help our schedules to run a little more smoothly. Other reminders, however, add to the chaos. Junk mail reminding us of an upcoming sale at a store ends up in the garbage. Our “spam” folders accumulate hundreds of unwanted emails. Even useful reminders, like those encouraging us to register to vote in time for an election or to book an overdue appointment at the dentist, can become overbearing, annoying, and ultimately ineffective.

Sonntag and Zizzo identified a key factor that helps inform the question of how frequently notifications should be sent out to maximize effectiveness. Their research found that weekly reminders were no more helpful than monthly reminders, both of which increased frequency of donations by 10 percent. This means that decreasing the quantity of emails you send out doesn’t necessarily decrease the amount you receive in donations. Sending fewer emails, however, is less likely to make a prospective donor feel spammed. The right rate for your nonprofit and your audience may be different, but the broad takeaway from Sonntag and Zizzo’s research is this: you must reach out frequently enough that prospective donors don’t forget about your cause, and infrequently enough so as to prevent your appeals from becoming unwanted junk mail. According to this study, that right frequency for you may be different than you expect. You might want to try changing things up and see what happens.

The ideal scenario, of course, would be to make one appeal that earns you a lifelong donor who does not need to be convinced over and over again. Through traditional methods, this is rarely possible. With The RoundUp App, however, this scenario is the norm. Someone who signs up to donate to your cause through RoundUp is, by necessity, making a commitment. They will automatically continue to donate with each purchase they make. No reminders needed. No risk of spamming the audience you’re trying to engage. With RoundUp, you can create a steady flow of income from donors who stick around month to month. So before you write that next newsletter or start that new email campaign, step back and reconsider your strategy. It might be worth it.

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