I’ve been a partner at Good Works for 25 years now. But, before I became a Good Worker, I was a client – twice!

Back in the 1990s, I learned direct mail fundraising from the experts at Good Works. There was one lesson they taught me that stands above all the others – and that lesson is this: Let the donors decide what’s best. DON’T do it for them!

The Best Advice

Now, I’ve always been a guy full of ‘good ideas’. When I had a new idea as a Good Works client, I’d discuss it with my consultant. Now, she could have said ‘Fraser, that idea is wonky. I know what’s best. Don’t do it.’ On the other hand, she could have said ‘Well, Fraser, if you feel so strongly about this idea let’s go ahead and do it.’

But those were never the route that was recommended. Rather, my consultant pretty much always said, ‘Let’s split the donor file and test your idea on half. Let’s let the donors decide how good your idea is.’

What fabulous advice that was. And what a superb practice it continues to be.

Never Decide For Them

If I have learned one thing about direct mail – and all forms of direct response fundraising for that matter – it’s this: Always let the donors be the jury. Never decide for them. Always allow them to decide for themselves.

So why am I talking about this all now – more than 25 years after I first learned this big lesson? It’s because the COVID-19 pandemic has brought it all back into focus for me.

Here’s why…

During the pandemic, my fellow Good Workers and I have seen lots of people in charity leadership positions decide what was best for their donors. Non-profit leaders – like executive directors and board members – simply ‘knew’ that donors didn’t want to be bothered with fundraising letters (or emails or phone calls) during the crisis. These leaders thought it more prudent to wait until the crisis was over to resume fundraising in the normal way.

Guess what? They were dead wrong.

What About COVID-19?

During the pandemic, direct mail and digital donors were every bit as generous – and often MORE generous – as they’d been in pre-COVID times. They knew others were suffering – and they wanted to help. This was an entirely human response!

Here’s an interesting bit of information for you. Almost every single Good Works direct mail or digital client raised MORE money during the first spring of the pandemic (2020) than they had in the previous ‘normal’ year (2019). And, our Good Works Canadian Direct Mail Benchmarks Report found that response rates, total revenues and average gifts were all up significantly across the sector during 2020.

So, it’s time for a lot of people in our sector – CEOs, board chairs, finance directors and program leadership – to check their egos at the door. They must stop deciding what’s best for their donors – and let their donors decide what’s best for themselves.

At the end of the day, everybody wins when you let your donors be your jury.