Stop SPAMMING your supporters with planned giving e-newsletters

Wiz-bang tech?

I was talking to a fundraiser and he said, “We’ve got this cool system that includes pre-written estate planning e-newsletters I can send to my list whenever I want.”

So I asked, “Did the people on the list opt-in to receive the e-newsletter?”

“They are donors,” he replied.

So I asked again, “But did they opt-in to receive the e-newsletter?”

“Well, they opted-in when they donated…. I think,” he responded.

No they didn’t!

Folks, just because someone signed up to run a 5k, get email updates, or even if they donated, it doesn’t mean they also wanted to get your jargon-laden planned giving e-newsletter every month.

And besides…

Those kinds of ‘informative’ and ‘educational’ newsletters incite ‘rational error detection.’ That’s a term you’ll soon learn more about when MarketSmart begins to lead the release of Dr. Russell James’ new research findings this fall (2021). He’s got a ton of new findings and I’ll be rolling it all out for him (and with him).

So what is rational error detection?

Rational error detection happens when a supporter’s brain recognizes that the information supplied by a fundraiser is sent before the donor is ready for it. Often the kind of information I’m talking about here focuses on how one can make a gift (via CRT, pooled income fund, CGA, etc.).

This kind of information is most effective at the end of the giving consideration process, not at the beginning or in the middle.

During the earlier stages (which is where legacy gift donors spend around 95% of their time), it’s essential that your communications tell stories and provide value in ways that help them think about the intersection of their life story and your organization’s mission. I call these ‘why’ messages.

Those kinds of emails can, indeed, include links to ‘how’ information. But the research shows that making the communications mostly about ‘how’ too early makes donors slam on the breaks. It makes them stop moving themselves forward in the decision-making process.

In other words.

Sending unwelcome, mostly ‘educational’ communications (SPAM) before the point in the process when your supporters are ready for them results in rational error detection. In fact it makes your supporters do the opposite of what you want them to do—move forward.

Ask yourself these simple questions. 

Do I have prior explicit and verifiable permission (opt-in) from the recipient to send them this email/content? 

Are my messages providing the right kind of value in-line with where each donor resides in their consideration continuum?

If you don’t have permission and your messages are irrelevant, then you’re just plain being rude.

Think of it this way: Are you ever thrilled to receive an irrelevant email you didn’t explicitly request? Surely the answer is, “NO!” So why would you send your supporters (the people who pay your salary) e-newsletters on a topic they didn’t request?

It’s spam! Plain and simple!

Sure, you can dance around the word and twist yourself into a pretzel explaining that you are not a spammer. You might even say, “But I’m sending good information and they like our organization.”


If you are sending unsolicited email, that’s spam. What matters is only whether or not they explicitly gave you permission to send the information to them.

Email communications absent permission is spam, plain and simple (even if it’s legal).

So, be nice. Be respectful. Stop spamming your supporters.  

Related Posts:

>>3 questions to ask before you spam, spray and pray

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Art Stine
6 years ago

OPT IN – This is SO important. I agree that we need to make sure that what we are sending is “okay” with our donors. I even question myself when I use a donor’s email to make an appointment when they have opted out of email. Unless I have had the conversation with a specific donor to use email as a communication channel, I tend not to in the one on one case. Overall, though, I do not email blast donors who have opted out of email entirely. I think that offering the e-newsletter quarterly has value, but I believe that have the opt-out option should be clearly stated in the first one that they receive and have the option on each e-newsletter sent out.

6 years ago
Reply to  Art Stine

Thanks Art!!

Beth Hershenhart
6 years ago

This advice is spot on, Greg! Thank you for sharing, Sadly, right now all aspects of development is quite the opposite of donor-centric. And boy oh boy do we need to change what we are doing. We are turning off donors in droves.

6 years ago

Agreed Beth. I think a ‘day of reckoning’ is upon us.

Kurtis Smith
2 years ago

Greg, how does this research apply to people who’ve opted in to receiving occasional emails? Let’s say we sent them a planned giving checklist after they’ve opted in to occasional organizational emails…

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