A writing teacher of mine once coached us to “kill our darlings”.  This meant to not fall so in love with something that we wrote that we considered it too sacred to edit or eliminate. In fact, she challenged us to do away altogether with the sentences, phrases, paragraphs that we most fell in love with. It made our writing better because it forced us to challenge ourselves to come up with something even better.

The same “darlings” can be found in your fundraising program. They often take the form of “we’ve always done it this way” or “this was a best practice when I started with the organization 20 years ago” or “surely this will work!”. I’m sure you can identify several darlings in your organization. Today we’ll just talk about one.

Chances are you have names in your database without any giving history associated with them. Most organizations refer to these non donor names as house prospects. Because they are free and you assume these people must love your organization, you mail them each and every campaign without respect to whether or not they actually convert to donors at a respectable rate. Their inclusion is assumed without any further thought.

Evaluate how they engaged with your organization (attended an event, volunteered, bid in an auction, donated a car, entered a sweepstakes…).

  • Be sure to track the source of each name to measure the responsiveness of each audience. How did they get onto the file and what is the value of that activity? How engaged are they, really?
  • Segment them accordingly and mail only those segments that perform.

Evaluate how long ago they engaged with your organization.

  • Even committed volunteers become busy or move away. The recency of their last interaction with you is critical in determining their likelihood to give a gift.
  • Segment them accordingly and mail only those recencies that perform.

Do not feel obligated to mail all prospects in your house file.

  • Like any other source of names, this one needs to be measured and only mailed again if it produced acceptable results. Yes, these are free names, but you still had to pull the file, process them, print a mail piece, and pay lettershop fees and postage. They still need to pull their own weight in the mail.
  • Don’t be surprised if some of your outside lists actually respond better than some segments of your house file.

Do not mail them alone.

  • If you are going to mail them, chances are there are a limited number of them. To avoid costly small print runs, include them with your full campaign and mail them your normal acquisition mail piece.
  • Be sure you’ve built into your budget and your list plan room for your house names so that you don’t inadvertently end up with more names post-merge than you can afford to mail.