So much of direct marketing fundraising is counterintuitive. Smart nonprofits test, and look at the data and results to guide their decision making. Other nonprofits make the mistake of following their instincts, and incorrectly assume certain techniques work or do not work. 

Here are a few of the myths out there about fundraising that have gained traction despite being incorrect. 

Myth #1: Rest donors after they make a contribution.

Many nonprofits believe they should “rest” donors after they make a contribution. They worry that asking for another donation too soon will anger or upset donors. 

While the idea comes from a good place of caring about donors, it is incorrect and can be a costly mistake to make for your nonprofit and donors. If you rest your most recent donors, you will see significantly less income and lower retention rates.

Here’s why: The more recently a donor has given, the more likely they are to give to you now. 

That can be hard to understand, but it is the truth. Donors who have contributed recently are more engaged and feel more connected to your nonprofit and your mission. That’s likely why these donors are significantly more responsive than donors who have given less recently. 

The other important thing you want to keep in mind: Your donors want to give to you. That’s right. Donors like what you do, and they believe in your mission. And donors benefit themselves when they contribute to a worthy cause.

A National Institutes of Health study found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect.

So please don’t decide for your donors that they don’t want to give! Some may feel that way, but let those donors make that choice; don’t make it for them. 

Myth #2: Don’t ask new donors for a second donation right away.

This is another myth you will likely hear over and over again. People incorrectly assume that new donors should be left alone, and not “bothered” with a solicitation for a second gift too soon. New donors are often welcomed to a nonprofit with silence. 

In reality, you want to communicate to new donors right away. You want to execute on your second gift plan quickly because there is a relatively short window to secure that second gift.  

In fact, research by Analytical Ones found that new donors who make a second gift within the first 3-months have a lifetime value nearly twice as high as those who make a second gift 12 months later.  That’s because donors are most likely to give again in that initial 90-day period. After that, the likelihood of them ever giving again falls dramatically. 

Don’t “feel bad” about communicating quickly and frequently with new donors. New donors are especially enthusiastic about your nonprofit’s mission and will be eager to hear from you. They want to learn more about the great work your nonprofit is doing, and how they can make a difference. Many will be inspired to make a second gift right away, and you want to make that as easy as possible for them to do. 

Myth #3: Don’t write long letters.

Longer letters work better than shorter letters. Not always, but almost always. 

I know, I know. You hate long letters and would never read them. But guess what? You aren’t your donor. Test after test has shown that donors respond better to longer letters. 


There are a few different theories on this. 

One is that different things will inspire different people to contribute. A longer letter gives you more space to cover these different motivators. 

Another is that people read letters in all different ways. Most jump around. A longer letter has more entry points and more calls to action throughout the letter. In other words, a longer letter gives readers more opportunities to get pulled into the letter. 

A longer letter’s length also conveys importance and higher credibility than a shorter letter. 

Always remember (and remind others on your team) that you are not your donor. It is very likely that donors have more time than you to sit and read a long letter, and many enjoy doing so. If your results show that longer letters work, stick with them and don’t let your own feelings stop you from sending out the letter that is most effective.

Myth #4: Pull donors out of the direct marketing program when they upgrade.

Many fundraisers assume that you must quickly move a donor out of the direct marketing program once they make a more sizable gift. They want to treat the donor in an entirely new way. The nonprofit can quickly lose sight of the fact that it was that very direct marketing program that inspired the donor to make a large gift in the first place. 

The best advice here is to slow down. Reach out to the donor who upgraded to thank them, and to find out if a personal relationship is likely to be motivating. Not every donor wants a personal relationship. 

You also want to make sure your major gifts team has the capacity to add this donor to their caseload. Too often major gifts officers are overwhelmed, and instead of being treated better, upgraded donors are lost in the mix and receive no communication. That’s the opposite of what you want, so be sure to have procedures in place to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Direct marketing is a mix of art and science. That’s what makes it interesting and challenging. Smart fundraisers learn to make decisions based on data, rather than their instincts or personal preferences. Even those with years and years of experience have had to relearn the lesson the hard way that direct mail is counterintuitive.