How Much is Too Much?

It’s official.  I am a Millennial.  At least as far as nonprofits who send out emails are concerned. According to a study by Grey Matter Research, millennials get 27 emails a week, while people 65 and older (my natural habitat), say they only get 15.  Grey Matter also reports that a large percentage of people actually read most or all of the emails, but I confess I don’t.  In fact, it feels as if I am getting 27 a DAY, and all of them are asking me to give. You’d think that someone like me who is in the business of helping nonprofits to increase their fundraising capacity would applaud that.  After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.  But arm’s length asking—and these emails are about as personal as a direct mail appeal—are notoriously ineffective and often, if they are sent often, downright irritating.

Charitable giving is something people do when they want to right a wrong, help someone who needs that help, support a cause that resonates with them.  And, they need to feel that their gift means something.  How can it mean anything if 15 minutes after I’ve given, I’m being asked to give again?

I get it.  Nonprofits need money to do the work they do. Advocacy groups, which tend to be more responsive than proactive, probably believe that the issue du jour will garner more giving than a concentrated ask.  But I wonder.  There are issues I care passionately about, but when I am asked on a weekly—and sometimes daily—basis to give $100, $200, $400 for THIS particular crisis, I feel, well, crisis-ed out.  And so I start ignoring the emails; not responding to the appeals.

Donor fatigue, I’ve always maintained, is more a function of lousy fundraising than anything else. And lousy fundraising is when an organization keeps going back to the same old same old person, institution, group of people, asking for a gift to support this, and now this, and now again, this.

I don’t doubt that the constant appeals bring in some positive responses.  But I think this mode of fundraising is as much at fault as the lack of appropriate stewardship in our sector experiences such huge number of donor attrition.  Over all, way less than 50% of donors make repeat gifts—and remember, this includes people who give regularly because their child or children are students in a private school, or a loved one is in or just got out of the hospital.  Absent those people, attrition rates would increase even more.

While it unrealistic to expect many organizations to have the human resources to meet with every single donor and find out how he or she would like to give, it’s not hard to parse out who is responding and who is not.

How often is too much? is a question my clients and those taking my workshops often ask.  And I generally respond with a rule of thumb that you should touch a donor at least 3 times between every ask.  But not if you are already sending me 27 emails a week. Adding any amount to that goes beyond irritating to truly obnoxious.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, taking them from mired to inspired.  Learn more at  Sign up for our free newsletter and do contact Janet for a free 30-minute consultation