Non-Profits and donation solicitation

I do a fair amount of donating to non-profits that are doing good work in the world and it’s always maddening when they then take this as permission to send me a bunch of email solicitations for donations (even worse, some send paper mail thereby wasting the money I sent them).  I have a friend who hates this so much he either doesn’t donate or drives to the post office to get an anonymous postal money order to make his donation by mail anonymously so he doesn’t get so much paper junk mail sent to him!
Today I replied to one such email appeal and asked why they felt that my donation was permission for them to send me an email asking for more money once a week.  In their reply they said:
Unfortunately, no one donates unless we ask them to, and the people most likely to donate are those who have donated before.  If we don’t email our donors, we go out of business and can’t do the work people donate to us for.  If we do email our donors, some percentage will never donate to us again.  It’s a catch-22 that every non-profit

An interesting dilemma.   To me there’s some interesting psychology at work here and figuring out the optimal strategy is a fascination problem.

My quick off-the-cuff idea for a starting point to then iteration upon and refine:
  •  Send out a receipt for every donation made, by all means.
  • Do NOT send out things that are only a request for money.  Such an email has nearly zero value to the recipient (unless the recipient has asked you how often you like to make donations and if you’d like a reminder at that frequency or around a particular time of year).
  • Do send out an infrequent newsletter about great work your organization is doing with the funds I and other have donated.  Experiment with Weekly, bi-weekly, monthly & quarterly rates of newsletters to different random subsets of your donors and determine the optimal sending rate (I’m guessing it’s monthly).
  • At the bottom of each newsletter include two lines:
    •  first line:  Number of months since recipient’s last donation and a “donate now!” link
    • second line subscription option links:  Receive our newsletter:
      weekly  |  every two weeks  | monthly | quarterly | never
Then make sure the links are hooked up to a metrics engine so you can do good statistics on which newsletter frequencies produce the most donations.  Experiment with reversing the order of the two lines at the bottom to see if it matters, changing the order of the subscription options (where never appears in particular), and changing font sizes, colors, etc etc.
Tune for maximal donations now that you have data on which to base those tuning decisions.
There are probably better ways to do this, but this seems like the kind of thing that might apply to more than just non-profits.

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