Response rates, conversion rates and net revenue are critically important metrics of fundraising success. And they can lead you astray.

Yes — I’m taking a controversial stance that direct response math sometimes doesn’t add up to the relationship building we must champion as fundraisers.


Here are some client case studies to help paint the picture.

One client reports that messaging on a topic that is slightly tangential to their core mission (but in the news cycle right now) is bolstering their response rates. But in a recent survey and focus group with their most loyal donors, we found that a high percentage are concerned that this organization is falling prey to mission creep. How might this factor into long-term success?

One client reports that sending cultivation messages showcasing their victories is leading to email unsubscribes. The hypothesis is that we should stop sending cultivation messages. But what about the donors who are reading these messages and becoming more connected to the issue and more bonded to this group? What might decreasing cultivation do to their lifetime value?

Another client reports that showcasing their grassroots volunteers through first-person messages doesn’t boost response over more institutional signers. But in our research with their supporters, the grassroots arm of this organization is their unique value proposition and what many donors are most passionate about. How might we be limiting the brand by following the direct response math?

These are just a few examples. And believe me, I’m not here to say you shouldn’t focus on direct response math. But I am here to say that short-term stats must be interpreted through a broader lens with a focus on retention, lifetime value and donor passion.

Otherwise, your direct response math might be leading you down a rabbit hole with a dead end.