Asking Too Often…Or Not Enough?

Posted on 06/08/2016 - by Dan Allenby

Boy Who Cried WolfOne of Aesop’s great fables is about a shepherd boy who repeatedly tricks nearby villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock. Time and time again the villagers come to his side only to discover that his cries are just a hoax. In the story’s tragic ending, a real wolf finally does appear. When the boy again asks for help, the villagers ignore him and the sheep are eaten.

Besides the important moral about telling the truth, this story also has a lesson for annual giving professionals: be wary of asking too often. Understanding that donors usually don’t give unless they’re asked, many annual giving programs struggle to figure how frequently they should solicit their prospects.

An aggressive strategy can have an upside. It can keep your institution (and its need for support) top of mind for your constituents. There’s a lot of static and competition out there. The more often you ask, the more likely it is that your appeal will be heard. Being assertive can also produce results. There is, in fact, a correlation between higher appeal frequency and higher participation rates.

However, frequent appeals can also have a downside. The more you ask, the more you risk alienating your prospects. It doesn’t take much for someone to click the unsubscribe link in your email or ask to be taken off your call list. Asking too often also risks desensitizing your constituents to all of your institution’s communications – appeals and otherwise.

The optimal frequency depends on a number of factors including budget, culture, and goals. But good solicitation and segmentation strategies consider more than just frequency. They also require balance in terms of message, method, and timing. What, how, and when you ask are just as – if not more – important as how often you ask. You’ll know when you’ve found the right balance for your audience when you start to notice an uptick in your results.

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