At a recent office birthday celebration, a very well-intentioned receptionist ordered the food and coffee. When we arrived that morning, on the table were 36 glazed donuts. No other flavors. No jelly, no Boston cream, not a cinnamon ring in sight.

The not so subtle cry of “WHAT?” and “WHY?” rang out. The receptionist’s response: “I thought it would be easier if no one had any choice and everyone just ate the same.”

Requesting “assorted” at the donut shop counter would have been just as easy and taken the same amount of time. In life, we want choices: they stimulate important discussions, necessitate our involvement and create common ground.

The receptionist’s gesture was disappointingly ill-conceived, and it detracted from the celebration.

How does this apply to direct-response fundraising? Think about it: there’s an awful lot to do before a mail piece is sent or an email is deployed. And if we start making incorrect assumptions about donors and prospects before we’re even out of the gate, we risk limiting our results.

Our goal is to raise money; as we all know, that’s time-consuming. Every step in the process takes thought and time, beginning with preparing the data. But back to our goal: we need money now and we need to let our donors know we need them now!

So you “ask”. You use the salutation you have on file and send everyone the same letter. You build a gift string based on the donor’s last contribution or on her highest previous contribution.

But did you look to see if she’s already given this year and, if so, how many times?

How long has she been on file? Is she tried and true? Was she recently acquired? Did you address her as a new donor and explain how thrilled you all are to have her on board?

Are you offering choices to your donor?

Do you think that, if you offer her your one and only glazed donut, she’ll immediately pull out her wallet and offer to pay for it? Not so.

What if you offer her something else?

What happens when you operate under the assumption that Ms. Donor is an intelligent, experienced, mature person who knows her own mind? Ms. Donor feels valued, needed and maybe even an integral part of your work to treat sick children, save endangered elephants or uncover grave injustice.

What does this come down to, in practical and actionable terms?

  • Personalization (with name and address spelled correctly)
  • Engagement
  • Cultivation
  • Partnership
  • Stewardship

If you have data at your fingertips, there is really no reason to offer every donor the same glazed donut. By offering an assortment based on what you know about your donors, you cultivate individual relationships and stand to deepen their commitment to your organization as a result.