The Ladder of Effectiveness – A Fundraising Tool for Making the Ask

Ladder of Effectiveness

There are some tried and true fundraising tools that just seem to get better with age. The Ladder of Effectiveness is one of these. I first encountered it in Hank Rosso’s Achieving Excellence in Fundraising, and have seen versions of it pop up at workshops and conferences many times since.

The Ladder shows the relative effectiveness of various solicitation methods in descending order. The most effective techniques are at the top:

1)    Personal (face-to-face) meeting

  • Team of two
  • Solo

2)    Personal letter (on personal stationery)

  • With telephone follow up
  • Without telephone follow up

3)    Personal telephone call

  • With letter follow up
  • Without letter follow up

4)    Personal email message

5)    Personal phone-a-thon call

6)    Impersonal letter, direct mail or email

7)    Impersonal telemarketing call

8)    Fundraising benefit/special event

9)    Door-to-door canvassing

10)   Media/advertising/Internet

What can you do with the Ladder of Effectiveness besides file it away in your own knowledge bank? Here are 3 good uses for this easy-to-understand tool:

  • Strategy. Let the Ladder inform your strategy and planning at the most basic levels. It goes without saying that you should not be soliciting a $100,000 gift via a phone-a-thon!
  • Education. Show the Ladder to others who are part of your fundraising operation – senior leaders, program staff, board members, and volunteers. A more educated team is a more successful team. The Ladder can also help allay fears of rejection and help “askers” develop realistic expectations aligned with their methods of solicitation.
  • Customize. Don’t be afraid to re-arrange the rungs on your ladder. If, for example, your organization’s donor pool skews older, keep in mind that many folks in their 70s and above still open snail mail and may provide a better-than-average response to a targeted direct mail campaign. 

Most versions of the The Ladder of Effectiveness show only traditional fundraising techniques. The jury is still out on whether email is more effective than direct mail. And what about social media and texting?

Have you had success with new media? What are your favorite solicitation methods?

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