When was the last time you heard anyone in marketing tell you to “think small”? Trust us, we’re not crazy. We are as big of believers as anyone in setting seemingly unreachable goals, but our experience suggests that the secret to hitting these goals is very counterintuitive.

Traditional marketing genius Jay Conrad Levinson was one of the first people to lay the groundwork for what might be the most common framework in marketing today: the reach and frequency approach. “Reach” describes how many people your organization is in contact with (ex. we emailed 10 people our newsletter from last month), while “frequency” describes how many times you’ve contacted your prospect pool (ex. we sent everyone on our donor list a Christmas postcard, follow up email, and gave them a phone call). The formula goes something like this:

Development Success = (Reach) x (Frequency)

When you are talking about (small) transactional giving, this approach will work wonders. Scale is a beautiful thing. If you have a database of 20,000 email subscribers, use a tool such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact to repeatedly contact these people – the “numbers game” alone will take care of you.

But how do you get the big donor? The man or woman who donates 20% of your total budget with one check. If you can find enough of these people who are good candidates to donate, pure reach and frequency might take care of you. But they might not.

For high stakes donors, where getting just one of these people interested in your organization, you need to think small. You need to show this person that you care about them specifically. Your homework needs to be done and in your backpack the night before school. Here is the formula that we have found applies to these interactions:

“Big Fish” Development Success = (Effort Invested) x (Creativity) x (Persistence)

Would you be more likely to respond to a generic email that says “John, we really need your financial support to help alleviate the needs of ____” or a package with a military surplus helmet  with a note stating “We’re in a war on poverty, and are running low on supplies, can we count on you Commander John?” For the ultra-famous, you may need to test your own limits of creativity and persistence, but what we all need to realize is that nobody is truly out of reach. The more effort your prospect sees you display in attempting to reach them, the more likely they will be to be generous back towards you (this is called the Principle of Reciprocity – for more on this see the work of psychologist Robert Cialdini).

One final point on this. Many people think: “That’s a nice thought, but I could never justify paying $100 in military helmets and mailing fees to get Mr. Smith’s attention. Nine times out of ten nothing will come of it.” We can’t forget rule #1 of marketing: ROI. If $60 invested in mailings goes further than $60 dollars in generic email blasting, then this is the way to go. We suspect you will quickly find that special attention has a much higher ROI than generic messaging when you get into the upper echelons of donors.

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