Finding the Right Appeal Frequency

Posted on 12/15/2018

One 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 aid only to discover that he doesn’t really need their aid. In the story’s tragic ending, a real wolf finally does appear. When the boy again cries out for help, the villagers ignore him and the sheep are eaten by the wolf.

Besides offering the important lesson to always tell the truth, this story also has an application for annual giving professionals: be wary of asking too often. But understanding that donors usually don’t give unless they’re asked, many annual giving programs struggle to determine the right frequencies for solicitations.

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

While frequent appeals draw more attention to your institution, they can also create donor fatigue. The more you ask, the more you risk alienating your prospects over time. It doesn’t take much for someone to click the unsubscribe link in your email or request to be taken off your call list. Asking too often also risks causing your constituents to lose interest in all of your communications—appeals and otherwise.

The optimal frequency depends on a number of factors including your budget, school culture, and goals. Ultimately, good solicitation and segmentation strategies consider more than just appeal frequency; they also balance method, message, 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 noticing a trend toward positive results.

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