The power of ‘no’

Published by Jonathon Grapsas on

noTo fundraisers, hearing the word ‘no’ can be a little jarring. Sometimes even a little awkward.

As a direct marketer, it’s never bothered me so much. In many ways, crassly it’s a numbers game. For me, ‘no’ simply means, “there’s nothing to see here”.

And on I move. Looking for more and better ways to find people who say ‘yes’.

Until recently.

I’ve begun spending quite a bit of time looking at whether a supporter ignoring a fundraising message or communication actually means they have rejected it (and by extension, you).

And the short answer, ironically, is no. Not necessarily.

My team and I have worked hard over the last three years at finding more and more ways to keep donors happy. Particularly monthly supporters.

The philosophy we work within isn’t about the channel of execution; it’s about the way we make people feel. That intricate balance between sheer joy and pride in what you’ve made happen, versus the hollow feeling that not all is actually great in the world.

And whilst we think this is grounded in lots of really solid data showing us this helps improve the number of supporters who stick around, we’ve recently noticed something else at play..

Firstly I should point out that we have very clearly seen a relationship between sending lots of stuff (communications) regularly to supporters and retention. In other words, do something and you win. Do little (or even nothing) and you lose.

But finding the “sweet spot” is proving more difficult. We know that the more we communicate (caveat: not just communicate, but share really good stuff), the more supporters stick around and ultimately give.

Yet communicate doesn’t necessarily equal consume. And in fact has led me to believe that perhaps the offer to do something is more important than the action itself?

As suggested earlier, I do know that a monthly giver who has received really good updates is more likely to continue to support than one that hasn’t received anything/much.

But I cannot tell you that a monthly giver that has read/watched/listened to an update about his or her support is any more likely to continue to give as someone who has not (read/watched/listened to updates).

In fact in some situations it would seem there is very little correlation at all, if any, between “consumption” (for example open an email, watch a video, click a link in an SMS) and retention.

So what’s happening here?

For me, it’s about trust and feeling assured.

Supporters can clearly see that the organisation they’ve entrusted to make the world a little better has made the effort to assure them that some good is happening (but some more needs to happen).

The regular snippets of information shared are in themselves enough to appease. I know ‘X’ is holding up its end of the bargain. I don’t need to trawl through every morsel of news they share with me to be certain.

I am not for a moment suggesting that sharing these stories is a waste of time. Refer to my earlier point about more, regular communications proving more valuable than none at all.

But it is OK if we chose to ignore some of them from time to time. Ignoring doesn’t necessarily mean I am apathetic.

Our findings have shown that those who have taken the time to look at 30% of everything they receive may be just as likely to stick around as those who digest every titbit of information.

There is nothing to see here. And sometimes that’s as good as gold.

Jonathon Grapsas

Jonathon is the founder and director at flat earth direct, an agency dedicated to fundraising and campaigning for good causes. Jonathon has spent the last decade working with charities all around the world. Initially in the UK, and more recently in Canada and his native Australia. An influential blogger, writer and speaker, Jonathon's spends most of time now helping charities reach out to people online.


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