It is the fate of glass to break. Likewise, dogmas.

Galileo knew it.  Whether or not he actually said “and yet it moves” after recanting the heresy that the earth moves around the sun*, he knew that knowledge, like life or science, finds a way.

I have believed the one about “mail more, make more” for most of my direct marketing career. And at the time it was espoused, it was the best advice. Nonprofits used to hide their asking light under a bushel basket, couching it a series of “would you consider”s and “if you aren’t too busy”s and “mother may I”s.

Few of us do this now; so should it be. Giving of ourselves is a good thing, perhaps the best thing. Asking for one to give can and should be a joyful act for both asker and giver.

But the “ask more, make more” orthodoxy remained even after we put away our fundraising fainting couches.

The study that 63% of a new mailing’s revenue isn’t new, but is stolen from surrounding pieces was a crack in the glass. I pondered all of the mail pieces that I had sent in my life that did negative good, robbing both from coffers and from the joy of giving.

And it does rob of joy.  We’ve been analyzing tens of thousands of comments given to numerous nonprofits around the globe.  Comment #1 is “keep up the good work.” Comments #2 and #3 are invariably, in some order, “no more mail” or “mail me less often.”  (BTW, if you would like to get the feedback white paper when it launches, please sign up for our newsletter at right)

Now, in today’s wonderful Agitator post (appropriately enough from not just one concerned scientist, but an entire union of them), there is a full year test of mailing four pieces instead of 12.  Turns out that this change, along with socializing this change with donors led to:

  • Increased net revenues
  • Cuts in the cost to raise a dollar by almost half
  • Increased value per donor
  • Decreased donor services calls and increased the quality of donor services

And more.  I won’t spoil it because it deserves a read on its own.  But going from 12 to four is a particularly bold and dramatic example.  And less is more is what we are seeing in early testing with other nonprofits as well.

As more evidence accumulates, we may/will have to make the shift from “burn the witch!” to “this can’t be the way the world works” to “is this the way the world works?” to “how do we deal with this new world?”

Like Galileo before us, I think we’ll find beauty there, new worlds to explore.  We’ll find that volume is but one lever to pull, one arrow in our quiver.

When we can no longer add a mailing to make up a gap, we will have to delve into deeper understandings of why people give and why they stop. I look forward to the exploration with you.

Special thanks to Laurie Marden, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Agitator for sharing this great case study.  And please share your stories in the comments.

*President Bartlett: I know of one guy they were ready to carve up with instruments of torture because he had this silly idea that the Earth revolved around the sun.

Ellie Bartlett: If this is an object lesson about how scientists have it better today because there’s no Inquisition…

President Bartlett: I enjoy talking about Galileo, and don’t you start with me!

Ellie Bartlett: It’s apocryphal, Dad. A story for tourists. If Galileo had muttered “It still moves” after they made him recant his life’s work, they would have killed him on the spot, and I don’t know why I let you do this to me!…

President Bartlett: When Galileo said “Eppur si muove”, it meant that he would continue no matter what to study and publish.

— The West Wing, “Eppur Si Muove”