Summer is well underway and I hate to tell you this… but year-end campaign season is right around the corner!
Even if you still feel like you’ve barely recuperated from last year’s campaign and your to-do-list is eight miles high, it is time to start planning.
Before you decide this is completely out of the question, let me remind you of last fall, when you said to yourself, “I wish I had time to figure out how to do XYZ better… but I’ve just got to get this letter out the door!”
Remember how you told yourself you’d figure this out next year, when you had more time? Well, here you are!
Although you probably never feel like you have enough time, it’s essential to create time for things that are not necessarily urgent, but still very important.
Here are five things to add to your to-do list over the next few months that will make your fall so much easier.
1. Evaluate your past year-end appeal.
While I’ll bet you know to the penny how much money your last appeal raised, you’re going to need additional information if you want your appeal to raise more money this year.
It’s important to measure how well your appeal performed compared to prior years. You need an informed hypothesis for what worked well and where new tactics might be in order.
Start by asking these questions about your last year-end appeal:
• What was your overall response rate?
• What was your average gift size?
• Where did you go over-budget or encounter unexpected expenses?
• How did your key donor segments respond?
• Were there donor segments that didn’t provide a positive return on investment?
• How did measurements from last year compare to the appeal before?
Don’t forget to document your answers to these questions so that you’ll have data for next year’s evaluation.
2. Contact your best, loyal donors who didn’t give during the last calendar year.
Spring and summer are great times for some lapsed donor cultivation.
Pull a list of multi-year donors who didn’t give last year (and also haven’t given yet this year). Select a manageable number of those donors and make a simple plan to contact them.
Your plan might include a board phone-a-thon. You might hand-write personal notes to each donor. Tell them you’ve missed their support, and that you need their continued support because they are important partners in your work.
When these donors do give again (which they probably will) give them the royal thank-you treatment. Don’t forget to track responses so you can measure your success!
3. Start searching for a compelling story for your direct mail and email appeals.
Every appeal needs an emotionally moving anecdote that clearly communicates why your work is critical. The story you share must compel your donors to get out their checkbooks or go online to make a gift.
To find a great story, you need plenty of time to gather them from people who’ve been deeply involved with your organization. Sit down with program staff, interview your volunteers, and talk to clients, parents, students, patients, etc… about their experiences with your organization. Which of these stories stands out?
Your storyteller may be the perfect person to be honorary signer of the appeal (although it’s typically best for development staff to draft the actual letter).
When you allow enough time to talk these people, you’ll not only find a great story for your upcoming appeal or campaign, you’ll also generate a story-bank to with ready-made ideas for future appeals.
4. Audit your mailing list.
Take a closer look at your mailing list. Are there people on your list who might not be appropriate for a renewal appeal? This is particularly important for organizations that default to their entire donor list for every mailing. Periodically, it pays to take stock of who should be included.
Start by evaluating these groups of donors:
Does your mailing list include people who are not yet actual donors? Often we store these prospective names in our database. Make sure you are sending them an introductory, recruitment letter rather than your general renewal appeal.
Donors whose only gift was associated with an event, workshop, memorial, etc…
Rather than automatically mailing everything to these donors for years and years, review your data to determine if these groups are actually responding to your general renewal appeal. If not, they may need a separate, more targeted letter.
Are you mailing to out-of-state donors? Most states require a solicitation license for a charity to solicit that state’s residents in any way. If you don’t yet have a license for a donor’s state, stop mailing to them!
Donors with bad addresses
Have you been stuffing returned mail in a folder to update “eventually?” Have you tried to locate their new addresses? It’s better to spend a little time looking these up rather than just tossing out valuable donors.
5. Research the best rates for the best services.
If you’ve ever been confused by bulk mail, wondered if you’re getting the best possible postage rates, or suspect that your long-time printer is charging too much, now is the time to find out.
Call several mail houses, designers, or printers for quotes. Ask all your “silly” questions, and research ways to reduce your costs.
In the midst of year-end fundraising, it’s practically impossible to find time for these details. Just as you might take time to go to a workshop or conference, make time to work out details of your annual campaign. With a little effort, you’ll find ways to improve efficiency, save money, and enhance your appeal’s performance.
If you are proactive and do this work now, I guarantee you’ll be rewarded with an enormously successful year-end appeal and campaign.
Don’t find yourself regretting it again once November rolls around.