In 2009, Jonathan Meer and Harvey S. Rosen of Stanford University and Princeton University, respectively, published “The ABCs of Charitable Solicitation.” The study sets out to prove that more solicitations lead to higher participation by relying on the fact that donors are targeted in alphabetical order.
Screeeeeeeching tires noise. Let’s stop right there.
Did they really just say DONORS ARE TARGETED IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER?!
That was a real eye opener for me.
Having now analyzed billions of dollars of giving data at EverTrue, I wanted to see if I could find any evidence this was still the case across the industry and if there was any trend from year to year.
The graphic below shows relative participation aggregated across several institutions for the past three fiscal years. A score of 1.0 means that last initial performed at the average level for its institution.
Observations and Reflections
First, there is an undeniable downward trend as you move down the alphabet from A to Z in each of the three years.
There are several theories to explain the downward slope. We fielded ideas internally at EverTrue—here are some of our favorites:
- The printer ran out of ink before finishing this year’s postcard appeal.
- The person licking stamps got sick before finishing the campaign (inspired by this Seinfeld episode).
- Certain initials correspond with a higher incidence of foreign addresses and those constituents simply aren’t solicited.
The last point seems the most viable, and it’s true. But after filtering out non-US addresses, and when leaving these letters out completely, the downward trend still reveals itself! Surely, you have your own theories. Be sure to post them in the comments below.
This data confirms an industrywide legacy of prioritizing our fundraising efforts using the alphabet. Whether it’s the primary sort key, secondary, or beyond, it is affecting where our dollars come from. There has to be a better way!
The good news: Our study shows the slope improves (becomes flatter) each year, so we can all celebrate some progress. But until that line flattens out completely, we need to continue to challenge the status quo.
It’d be a shame if Mr. Zuckerberg never got a call…