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Are we starting to see year-end solicitation letters v2.0?


direct mail3A few years ago I noticed some of the letters being sent to me by non-profit organizations were getting less wordy. In fact, these next generation donor communications pieces were mostly featuring a big photograph of someone/something that was supposedly mission-focused.

At first, I really didn’t like this new approach to donor communications. Don’t get me wrong . . . I disliked the blah-blah-blah letters. Like most readers, I would read the old solicitation letters like this:

  • Salutation (e.g. did they spell my name right?)
  • First few sentences (e.g. how much do they want and what’s the case for support this time?)
  • Skip to the signature (e.g. do I know the person who signed the letter?)
  • Post script (e.g. don’t know why, but I always read the P.S.)
  • If this five second review hooks me, then I’ll go back to the beginning and start skimming (honestly probably paying more attention to bullets, highlighted text and anything in bold/italics)

I was even worse with gift acknowledgement letters, which I would read like this:

  • Salutation (e.g. did they spell my name right?)
  • Did they get my pledge or gift amount right? (e.g. this is for the IRS and I can’t afford an error)
  • Is there a personal notation on the letter (e.g. did my gift merit a little love or was this just a transaction?)
  • Is the boilerplate IRS verbiage about the value of any goods or services being received by me from the non-profit as part of my contribution correctly listed (e.g. as I said earlier . . . I don’t wanna tangle with the IRS)

The first few times I received what I am describing as “next generation donor communication pieces,” I simply didn’t like it because it represented change. It threw me off my reading routine, which is silly reason to dislike something. Right?

However, the first time one of these letters was used to acknowledge my contribution by a local non-profit organization, I was upset for a few reasons:

  • In their haste to use as few words as possible, they got wrong the boilerplate IRS verbiage about the value of any goods or services being received (this was a technical error)
  • I felt slighted because it was as if “my gift didn’t even rise to the level of deserving a handful of kind words” (by the way, the letter couldn’t have been more than three or four sentences with a giant cute picture of a client)

And then . . . I changed my mind after recently receiving the following year-end solicitation letter from my alma mater

uofi-yearend-letter


Three short paragraphs. One large picture. Lots of wonky ways to give my money.

Here is what appealed to me and changed my mind about this style of donor communications:

  1. The picture took me back to my college years. I know exactly where those four students are standing. I’ve stood there before. I suspect that I felt that same way they appear to be feeling. This picture created an immediate emotional connection for me in a way that words never have.
  2. The logo at the top of the letter also created an immediate emotional connection. It is a picture of the iconic Alma Mater statue. For many students, this artwork at the entrance to the Quad symbolizes many things (e.g. a sense of welcoming, nurturing, school pride, etc). Many students have fond memories attached to this statue.
  3. The shortened fundraising verbiage cut to the bottom line and the three most important things to me and most other donors: a) the university is grateful for my last contribution; b) my gift made a difference in the life of a student; and c) they want me to continue my support. All three of these messages are emotional in natural (e.g. they love me, they flatter me, they want me back).
  4. The multitude of choices is appealing (e.g. cash, credit, EFT/ACH, monthly giving options, gift restriction options). This makes me feel “in charge” and not like I’m giving money to a large, faceless organization that is going to do whatever it pleases with my financial contribution. Again, another emotional message (e.g. providing choice implies trust and respect in our society)

I’ve been a fan of Tom Ahern for years. I think he is one of the smartest donor communications experts in the field. In his videos and e-newsletters he often takes about the the six most powerful emotional triggers that marketers use to get people to do “something” like purchase a product, vote for a candidate, make a charitable contribution, etc.

Just in case you’re wondering, here are those six emotional triggers:

  • anger
  • exclusivity
  • fear
  • flattery
  • greed
  • guilt

Tom also talks about the 13 strongest words used by marketing professionals. Here is a list of those words:

  • discovery
  • results
  • proven
  • early
  • safety
  • free
  • save
  • guarantee
  • new
  • money
  • health
  • YOU

I love Tom, but I do cheat on him from time-to-time by reading other donor communications and direct mail experts like Mal Warwick.   😉

The following are five positive triggers that marketers use to emotionally move us to do something:

  • hope
  • love
  • compassion
  • duty
  • faith

As you review these lists of emotional triggers and powerful words offered by some of the smartest thought-leaders on this topic, can you identify which trigger the University of Illinois wove throughout its letter? Can you see how they did it? If you look really hard, you’ll be surprised at how much more is actually going on in this very short and powerful letter.

Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and observations. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Advice to my younger-fundraising-self about about direct mail


blog carnivalThis month DonorDreams is hosting the nationally acclaimed Nonprofit Blog Carnival, and this month’s theme is: “If you could go back in time and give your younger-fundraising-self one piece of advice, what would it be?” As I’ve done each of the last three year’s when I’ve hosted the carnival, I plan on focusing this month’s DonorDreams blog posts on the topic as a way to help inspire other non-profit bloggers to submit posts for consideration. The April 2016 Nonprofit Blog Carnival is scheduled to go live on Thursday, April 28, 2016. So, mark your calendars because you won’t want to miss what other non-profit bloggers have to say on this topic.

Today’s time machine post involves a younger me who learned valuable lessons about direct mail after a fateful experience with one of my first year-end holiday appeals. Enjoy!


rocky horrorAs a teenager, I was a Rocky Horror Picture Show groupie, which I bet you couldn’t have guessed, especially now that I routinely wear a tie and constantly talk about non-profit, fundraising and organizational development stuff. I’ve seen this cult movie more than 50 times in my life,

So, there you have it. LOL

I only mention this weird little personal fact about me because today is Tim Curry’s 70th birthday. For those who have experienced this movie, you understand that Curry’s Rocky Horror character, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, is a time traveling transvestite from outer space. Of course, I only mention all of this because this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival is time travel related.

Speaking of going back in time, if I had the opportunity to do so, one place I might stop top give my younger-fundraising-self a little advice would be November 2001. I was a relatively new executive director, and I was grappling with how to bring the cost of my year-end holiday mail appeal down.

timewarpInstead of picking up the phone and talking to mail professionals, that 31-year-old executive director decided to engage a few friends and do a 12,000 piece mailer by himself. Uh-huh. I thought it would be easy to:

  • Print everything in-house
  • Fold
  • Stuff
  • Stamp (pre-paid nonprofit stamps)
  • Lick
  • Sort
  • Box
  • Deliver to the post office

I’m sure you have already guessed that my friends quickly abandon ship after the first few hours and figuring out the insanity of what I was asking.

But did you skip over the bullet point labeled “LICK“.

Ugh!

Somewhere after the first few hundred letters, I made the decision that the wet sponge was just too sloppy. So, instead of using less water, I made the horrible decision to lick every stamp and every envelope.

When I think back to that moment in time, I still get that HORRIBLE taste in my mouth I experienced at the end of that long weekend. <ick>

If time travel was possible, I would go back and provide the following advice to my younger-fundraising-self:

  1. Don’t quickly dismiss the idea of calling a mail house because they might have been able to save you money with CASS certification and bar code automation (e.g. you never know unless you ask . . . work smart)
  2. Don’t lick those stamps and envelopes (it won’t save you any more money . . . it won’t raise you more money . . . it might even make you sick)

If you are a non-profit blogger who wants to participate in this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival and submit a post for consideration on this month’s carnival theme, click here to read the “call for submissions” post I published last week. It should answer all of your questions and clearly explain how to submit your entry. If not, then simply email me and I’ll be happy to help.

Here’s to your health! (And Happy Birthday, Tim!)

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Is your holiday mail solicitation personalized?


mail mergeI had the privilege of interviewing a young fundraising professional yesterday for an online article that I am writing. In that interview, we talked for almost an hour about direct mail and her passion for learning as much as she can about that industry’s best practices and how to apply it to her non-profit fundraising work.

We spent a good long time talking about her passion for “mail merge“.

I know, I know. To those of you who don’t do much work on the snail-mail side of the fundraising profession, this probably sounds a little funny. After all, isn’t mail merge simply a word processor function?

The reality of direct mail and targeted mail is that the more personalized you can make your mail piece the more effective it will be in raising money for your organization. In other words, a letter that begins with “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Friend” will raise significantly less than “Dear Erik” or “Dear Mr. Anderson“.

Of course, for many of us, mail merge begins and ends with the salutation at the top of the letter. But this was NOT the case for my energetic young interviewee yesterday. The following are just a few of the ways she was using mail merge in her fundraising letters:

  • Customized salutation (as described above)
  • Customized signatory (board member with a relationship to the donor)
  • Last year’s gift amount
  • This year’s ask amount
  • Customized gift level check boxes on the response card
  • Customized message on the outside envelope

To say this fundraising professional is in love with the mail merge as a tool would be an understatement. As would be my admiration for someone who exhibits that much passion for her work with donors and the art of philanthropy.

You might be wondering about the last two bullet points pertaining to the response card and the exterior envelope. Let me try to clarify in the space below.

With regard to the check boxes on the response card, there is some good evidence that indicates that the numbers you use psychologically factor into the donor’s decision.

For example, if a donor gave $275 last year and you’ve asked them to consider a $350 gift this year, some experts say you should not provide check box options with big gaps (e.g. $250, $500, $1000) because the donor will likely round down if last year’s gift is closer to that number instead of rounding up. To combat this psychology, using mail merge to customize the options (e.g. $275, $350, $500) can help increase the effectiveness of your upgrade strategy.

With regard to the customized message on the outside envelope, there is good evidence that people open mail from people they know. For example, an envelope that simply indicates there is something from your non-profit organization is less likely to be opened because donors can guess it is likely a solicitation and treat it like they do other direct mail. However, mail merging a message such as “A message from [insert BD vol name] is inside” will increase the odds of the donor opening the envelope because we all give consideration to our friends.

There is no doubt that direct mail and targeted mail are complicated and involve proven practices (aka the science of direct mail), which is why talking to young, enthusiastic fundraising professionals about this topic always does my soul some good.

So, my tip for today as it relates to direct mail is MAIL MERGE is your friend!

The following are a few older DonorDreams blog posts on the topic along with a few other resources:

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Tips to Improve Your Direct Mail Strategy


I’ve recently signed a contract that has me working with organizations in upstate New York, Vermont and New Hampshire for the next few months. With this new super new exciting challenge, I plan on increasing my use of guest blog posts as a way to make my life work. Hopefully, this will also bring new and exciting points of view to the DonorDreams blog community. I want to thank Gretchen Barry and our friends at NonProfitEasy for today’s contribution. I’ve included Gretchen’s bio at the end of today’s post. Enjoy!  ~Erik

4 Ways to Improve Your Direct Mail Strategy

By Gretchen Barry
NonProfitEasy

mailboxesThe ease of technology now reaches almost all aspects of life, even fundraising.  With the help of social media and email and texting, nonprofits are now able to raise money with the click of a button.  This shift has been hugely beneficial.

Easy access equals quick donations.

HOWEVER, the growth in online fundraising techniques does not mean that older methods should fall by the wayside.  In particular, direct mail should remain a fundraising method of choice.

There’s a common misconception that direct mail is only for reaching nonprofits’ ages 65+ demographic.  There is some validity in this statement.  Yes, a powerful contingent of donors prefers direct mail because those in that age range use the online functionalities nonprofits provide with less frequency.

Remember though, younger donors appreciate direct mail just as much.

For young donors, like millennials, snail mail is actually a novelty.  The internet has made everything so easy that it takes very little effort to email a friend or send an e-card.

A hand-written note or a personalized, mailed package takes effort and, as a result, shows dedication and care.  A direct mail campaign will surprise and connect with the elusive and generous millennial population.

Showing care in your communications is a great way to improve your fundraising effectiveness.  Direct mail can make a huge difference in your donor acquisition efforts.  People want to feel appreciated for the time and money they’ve invested in your cause.

The four tips below will help ensure your team is implementing the best direct mail strategy around.

1) DECIDE IF THE FUNDRAISER IS RIGHT FOR DIRECT MAIL

This point might seem obvious, but let me explain.  Each nonprofit is centered on a mission to serve a needed and worthwhile cause.

It should be easy to convince people that your cause is worth caring about.  What’s harder, and what should come into play when deciding whether to use direct mail or not, is knowing if any given fundraising campaign will be one people will feel compelled to donate towards.

Campaigns run the gamut.  Some are for new equipment.  Others are for events.  The scope is broad, but usually you’re asking for funds for a set venture rather than a generic fund.

So you can feel confident about your decision to put the extra effort and money into direct mail fundraisings, ask:

Once you’ve thought through those questions, you’ll be better equipped to decide if direct mail is the right fit.

Direct mail is not limited to fundraising.  Its uses range from sending out educational content to requesting RSVPs for an event. Don’t forget that when weighing if direct mail is the right fit.

Just really think through what you’re asking for.  A donor wants to help the cause.  She might be more inclined to donate an auction item to your annual gala’s live auction than a check for new office chairs.  Both asks are valid, but you have to determine what is important to your constituents.

2) KEEP AN EXCELLENT MAILING LIST

An ineffective mailing list will result in an ineffective campaign.

There are three biggies when it comes to organizing a mailing list:

  1. Reliable Donors
  2. Updated Information
  3. High-Quality Prospects

You want to spend your time and money contacting those who read and respond to direct mail.  It’s a good idea to have a donor segment of your prospects and donors who prefer direct mail.

If a donor has a history of never contributing as a result of a hand-mailed campaign, why would you spend the postage on shipping materials to him?

Also think about the time wasted mailing an item to a donor’s former address, or, worse, referring to an outdated detail.

Let’s say Mrs. Smith, formerly Ms. Jones, has moved in with her new husband.  If your list doesn’t have this information, your campaign likely won’t reach her.  If you do end up getting the correct address, what happens when she’s addressed by her maiden name?

Side-step this problem by making sure your donor database information is current and accurate.

The mishap might not upset her, but using her new, married name would certainly impress her.  It would demonstrate care — one of the biggest benefits of direct mail.

3) ATTACH A SELF-ADDRESSED STAMPED ENVELOPE (SASE)

If direct mail’s benefit is a demonstration of effort and email’s benefit is ease, how do you bridge that gap?  Just because donors enjoy the care you put into sending a package, it doesn’t mean that they won’t miss the simplicity of donating online.

How do we solve this problem?  Send your mailings with an SASE.  If your donor has decided to send funds don’t lose them on a technicality.  Take the guess work out of replying.

With a SASE a donor simply applies postage and sticks the envelope in the mail.  You could even talk to your post office about getting a permit to make the postage on your SASEs pre-paid.

4) TRACK YOUR RESULTS

Your direct mail methods should become more effective over time if you actively work on improvement.  What’s the best way to improve your approach?  You look at what you’re doing, determine areas of weakness, and focus on lessening those weaknesses.

Take advantage of your experiences by tracking campaign results.  That data will provide invaluable insight into potential direct mail mistakes.

Here’s what you should be analyzing:

  • Number of responses
  • Response type — How many RSVPs? How many no thank yous?
  • Donation amounts (if applicable)
  • Number of returns to sender
  • Comparison of funds raised versus costs to send

After a campaign, you will have the raw data.  That raw information will be the foundation of the metrics listed above.  Let that data make a difference.

With the way recent technology has revolutionized the nonprofit marketplace, it is difficult to resist the urge to go completely digital.  Don’t forget about direct mail though.  If you do, you’ll be missing out on an incredibly valuable opportunity.


GretchenGretchen Barry, Director of Marketing — Gretchen has been a leader in corporate communications and marketing for 20+ years. Gretchen has published numerous articles related to charitable giving and is a passionate advocate for public schools.  Gretchen has donated her time to numerous causes including Relay for Life, Girls on the Run, Rebuilding Together, and just recently became involved with the local land trust.  Gretchen graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in English literature.

Because you know it’s all about that list


A few years ago, Meghan Trainor released a song titled “All About That Bass,” and it immediately resonated with the world. For whatever reason, that song is rumbling through my head this morning as I think about your organization’s year-end fundraising efforts. Of course, I’m changing the lyrics to the song to make it more appropriate for fundraising professionals, and it is starting to sound a little bit like this:

Because you know I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no envelope
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no response card
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no letter
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list … list … list … list

Just in case you have no idea what song I’m butchering, check out Meghan Trainor’s music video on YouTube.

You’re probably wondering what I mean when I say I’m not about the envelope, response card, letter, etc. in my silly, made-up song lyrics.

I don’t mean to imply those elements of your year-end holiday mail appeal aren’t important. Because, of course, they are. However, those things are considerations for you down the road.

In my opinion, your first order of business is pulling together a good mailing list.

the listWithout a good list of donors, your year-end mail appeal will fall very flat and likely not raise very much money. Some direct mail experts, such as the folks at zairmail, have said the quality of your list can account for up to 70% of your year-end fundraising success.

When I worked on my last year-end holiday mail campaign, here were some of the lists I pulled from to create my larger prospect list:

  • LYBUNTs/SYBUNTs
  • Donors who already gave once this calendar year
  • Donors who traditionally only give to year-end holiday appeals
  • Targeted prospects from various lists I had purchased from mail house throughout the years

Typically, I didn’t blanket this group of prospects with the same appeal letter. Instead, I would target different letters with different messages to each niche group of prospects, and then I’d track the response rates and evaluate what worked (or didn’t work) so I could make adjustments next year.

With more than half of 2015 gone, I’m encouraging you not to wait until October or November to start thinking about your year-end holiday appeal efforts.

Start today!

And don’t start working on issues like what the letter says or what the mail package looks like. Those things can be put on the back burner for a few more weeks, but thinking about your list is something you can be (and should be) working on today. After all, it is the one most important elements of your year-end appeal that will make or break you.

Here are a few things you might want to consider doing in the next 30 days:

  • Make a decision on who you plan to include on your year-end holiday appeal and start pulling those lists
  • Scan the list for donors with high giving capacity and make plans to call them and sit down with them before the end of the summer (not to solicit them . . . just a cultivation or stewardship visit)
  • Make plans to communicate with everyone people on this list at least two of three things before your send them a fundraising appeal in early November

The following is a short list of communication tactics you might want to consider:

  • Send everyone a “Christmas in July” holiday card (or if you want to keep it non-religious simply make it a mid-year holiday card)
  • Mail out a newsletter or e-newsletter
  • Develop and distribute a mid-year impact report
  • Create a targeted social media distribution list comprised of your year-end fundraising appeal prospects and start tweeting or posting semi-regularly about how your organization is getting ready for year-end programming with clients

In effect, you are warming your pool of prospects and donors, which should improve your response rate.

If you do this pre-holiday communication strategy correctly, you might even be able to reference something you said mid-year in your year-end appeal letter. Doing so, will be a gentle reminder to the donor that you’ve been talking to them about your case for support for a long time. Essentially, the ask won’t feel so sudden and abrupt.

The other reasons I like the idea of starting now rather than waiting is because:

  • It allows you to reach out mid-year LYBUNT/SYBUNT donors and gives you time to address issues they might have with your organization (which is likely what has kept them from renewing their support)
  • It also gives you an opportunity to be more personal and intentional with higher capacity donors who might make a smaller token contribution if asked via direct mail at the end of the year instead of an in-person solicitation

Where is your organization at with planning for its year-end fundraising efforts? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and activities in the comment box. Not only can we learn from each other, but we can inspire each other too.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Get over your fear and ask for a specific contribution amount


ask1On Tuesday, I wrote a post titled “Things to consider before sending your next direct mail solicitation” and there appeared to be great interest from DonorDreams readers. So, today I decided to drill down on one specific mail solicitation topic — “asking for a specific donation amount” — because it is something few people seem to feel comfortable doing.

Everyone I’ve ever talked to about their mail appeal swears that they are good at asking for a contribution in their letter. However, the truth is that many of the letters I receive default to what I call the “passive ask.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • But we can’t do any of this without you. We need you to make a contribution today.”
  • All gifts are appreciated and needed to continue this important mission. Small or large, your gift makes a difference.”
  • Say YES to making a donation today to XYZ agency and being a special part of the XYZ family.”

These were real solicitations that I received from organizations.

Many of you are probably asking:  “What is so wrong with this approach?

The truth of the matter is that this donor (and I suspect many other donors) want to know:

  • what is a reasonable gift for donors like me?
  • what contribution amount from me will help you hit your goal?
  • what level of donation will help you make a difference with your clients?

Put me in a ballpark. Make a suggestion. Bottom line? I don’t really want to think too hard about this. Throw out a suggestion (based upon what you know about me). I’ll consider it. If it is something I can and want to do, then I’ll do it. If it isn’t something I can or want to do, then I won’t.

In my opinion, there is a darker side to this entire question . . .

Stop putting your donors on the spot and making them guess what you need.

This is, in fact, exactly what you’re doing. Right? Let’s think about this situation in a different light.

ask2What if your spouse or friend approached you and said, “I am really hungry and I need you get me food and make a meal before I starve.” However, they didn’t tell you:

  • How hungry they are?
  • How much time they had left before they starved?
  • How much food would satisfy their need?
  • What they want to eat?
  • How they like their food prepared?

You’ve been put on the spot, but you have no idea what is expected of you or what needs to occur to solve the problem.

In my book, that is frustrating! And the last time I checked, it is never a good idea to do things that frustrate your donors and supporters.

So, you’re probably wondering what’s the right way to respectfully make an ask in a mail appeal?

Here’s a few real examples:

  • Smile Train: “We hope you can send a donation of $25 that can cover the cost of sutures for one cleft surgery . . . $50 that can cover the cost of anesthesia . . . $125 that can pay half the costs of one surgery . . . or a most generous donation of $250 that can cover the cost of one complete surgery to save a child forever.
  • Council of Indian Nations: “Mr. Anderson, do you realize that for $10, we have the ability to provide over 90 servings of food to hungry Native Americans?
  • Michelle Obama: “So please, without waiting even a moment, rush your contribution of $1,000, $1,500 or whatever you can afford to Obama for America today.
  • The Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation: “But Founding Sponsors who contribute $150 or more will also receive a limited-edition, numbers photograph of Dr. King and his ‘American Dream’ speech.
  • Boys & Girls Club of Elgin: “Would you consider making a $25.00 donation to the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin to help underwrite educational and technology programs?

ask3A few observations:

  • Technology is amazing and easy to use. Mail merge allows you to personalize every letter and change the solicitation amount for each donor and prospect.
  • If you don’t know the person receiving your solicitation letter, you can always ask for consideration in a range.
  • You can also lay out a variety of giving options with an explanation of what each option helps underwrite.

With all of this being said, I understand the following:

  1. this isn’t easy
  2. there are times when you shouldn’t ask for a specific contribution amount
  3. some people insist there is a science to these issues

If you want to explore this question in more depth (and I encourage you to do so), you might want to investigate the following resources:

How does your agency tackle the issue of setting suggested ask amounts in your targeted and direct mail solicitations? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. Because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Things to consider before sending your next direct mail solicitation


direct mail3A client called and asked for a little help with their upcoming direct mail solicitation. As a result, all I’ve had on my mind over the last few days is direct mail. So, it only made sense to blog about it today. I’m breaking this post down into small sections, and I’m doing so in the order of highest importance (e.g. the first section has a bigger impact on the performance of your mailing than the second section, etc)

Before I begin, I offer this disclaimer (and then a disclaimer to the disclaimer) . . . I am not a direct mail expert. However, with that being said I believe all of us are “quasi-experts” because we all receive mail and if we’re paying attention then we know what works and what doesn’t work (at least from our perspective). Don’t sell your intuition short and always remember to: “Use the force, Luke.

The List

direct mail 4Perhaps, the biggest factor in the success of your direct mail appeal is your mailing list. The following are just a few donor segments that I’ve mailed to throughout the years:

  • current donors
  • lapsed donors
  • donors to a specific special event who you are trying to crossover into an annual campaign
  • new donor prospects (cold lists being used for acquisition purposes)

Your response will vary depending on your audience. For example, you will most likely get a better response rate and raise more money by mailing to people who already give to you. Why? Because they know you. They love you. They know what they’re investing in and understand the return on investment.

Which donor niche most likely to yield the lowest response rate? Your cold list of prospects . . . people who don’t contribute yet.

Not only does the character of the list, in and of itself, typically determine campaign performance, but it should also inform your strategies and tactics. Here are just a few examples:

  • letter content will likely be different for lapsed donors compared to new prospects
  • follow-up recognition and stewardship messaging and strategies might look and sound different for new prospects compared to returning donors

The Outer Package

direct mail1Your beautifully crafted letter means nothing if the recipient of your mailing doesn’t open the envelope. Right?

For this reason, you need to put some thought into what the package looks and feels like. Here are just a few strategies I’ve read about and experimented with throughout the years:

  • use pictures and teaser phrases on the outside envelope to encourage people to open the envelope
  • use actual stamps (e.g. first class or non-profit bulk stamps) because they allegedly get a higher open rate than an envelope using an indicia
  • use color enveloped because get opened more regularly than a standard white one (or at least put color on the white envelope)
  • use an odd sized package because they allegedly get opened more often than a standard #10 envelope
  • hand address envelopes (when practical) because those letters allegedly get opened more often than those with labels and windows

The psychology of direct mail is complex and every expert has their own opinion. My suggestions are:

  1. Google around, read some of the data out there, and develop your own point of view
  2. Test, test, test . . . try different approaches and track your results
  3. Pull together focus groups of donors or prospects and ask their opinions

Always remember that the more you personalize your mailing, the better off you will be.

The Letter
If you are lucky enough to get someone to open your envelope, a good rule of thumb is to design your letter with the understanding that most readers will spend 10 seconds or less with your appeal.

I suggest you focus on making the following parts of your letter pop because these are the components most commonly viewed by readers in the first five to 10 seconds:

  • salutation (make it personal and get it right)
  • first paragraph (don’t beat around the bush and ask for specific contribution amount right off the bat)
  • signatory (customize who is signing the letter based on relationship with reader or secure well-known and respected person in your community)
  • post script (most people read the PS so use it right by reiterating your call to action and tell them how to participate)

Lots of experts have lots of advice when it comes to your letter. Here is some of the advice I’ve personally subscribed to throughout the years:

  • tell a story and make it emotional (focusing on heroes and villains puts you on the right track )
  • ask for a specific contribution amount
  • bold/italicize/underline a few words or sentences that are most important and convey your message
  • don’t pack the letter with lots of words . . . less is more
  • write the letter using a conversational style (don’t worry about what your 7th grade grammar teacher told you)
  • focus more on the donor and less on your agency (use the word YOU)
  • when referencing yourself and your agency don’t use the “royal WE” . . . make it personal and use “I”
  • white space and pictures of people (especially cute kids and animals if applicable to your mission) are preferable to lots of words
  • larger fonts and more space between sentences accommodates your more mature donors

I could literally go on and on and on, but you don’t have time for that this morning. If you are interested in doing more research, the following are a few of the people I love to read on this subject:

What has been your organization’s experience with targeted or direct mail? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown?


shutdown1In the weeks leading up to the government shutdown, I heard some rumblings via the news media that Senator Ted Cruz and those aligned with him were dragging things out in Congress to maximize their online and direct mail fundraising efforts. To be honest, I didn’t give much thought to those accusations. They sounded like sour grapes and something partisan opponents would say in the heat of the moment. And then . . . when the government actually shut down, I started receiving a flood of email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). This is when my fundraising spidey-sense started to tingle, and I started paying attention because there must be lessons to be learned for non-profit organizations somewhere in this mess.

Here is what the most recent DCCC fundraising email said:

Dear Erik —

Boehner’s Tea Party majority is teetering on the edge:

A new poll shows that Democrats are leading SEVENTEEN Republican Congressmen after the Tea Party-inspired shutdown. Guess how many seats we need to win back a Democratic Majority? 17.

Voters are done putting up with the extreme Tea Party antics that have paralyzed the government. We have to act quickly to press our advantage in these crucial races. Will you help us raise $500,000 immediately to take on vulnerable House Republicans?

Donate $3 IMMEDIATELY to the Democratic Majority Rapid Response Fund.

This shutdown could spell the end of the Tea Party controlled Republican Majority.

But if we want that to happen, we have to act now.

Thanks,
DCCC Rapid Reponse

I purposely omitted the hyperlinks and website addresses because my intention is to evaluate language and strategy and not raise money for the DCCC.

So, let’s strip out the partisanship and set aside our personal political feelings. Let’s avoid the temptation to point fingers. Let’s just look at the circumstances, strategies and verbiage in the letter from a “Just the facts, ma’am” perspective.

What do you see? What do you sense?

shutdown3Here is what I’m seeing:

  • I see a misspelling in the signature block.
  • I see a case for support spelled out in five simple sentences.
  • I see emotionally charged words intended to poke and prod me into action (e.g. teetering, extreme, paralyzed, etc).
  • I see a fundraising goal clearly articulated (e.g. $500,000).
  • I see a specific ask (e.g. Donate $3.00 immediately).
  • I sense the strategy here is to set a very low barrier to entry to entice first time donors. In other words, they poke me, I get upset, and the solution is as simple as just giving $3.00 to make things right again.
  • I see an email with a small handful of carefully worded sentences fitting neatly on my computer screen. I don’t need to scroll down to continue reading.
  • I see short easy to read sentences. The longest sentence was 16 words long.

There is so much that you can learn if you just keep your eyes, ears and mind open. Professional fundraisers cram your mailbox and email inbox full of examples every day. Are you paying attention? Because with a little discipline you can teach yourself a lot in a short period of time.

Let’s circle back to the question I pose in the headline of this blog post:

Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown?

I think a case can be made for the answer to this question being “YES”.

There is so much noise being made in our political arena on a daily basis that many people tune things out. I know that I am as guilty as others in this regard. So, when you have fundraising goals to hit, then your case for support needs to be very big and noisy in order to get people’s attention.

I believe the lesson to be learned here for non-profit organizations is that your case for support is powerful. It is the engine at the center of your resource development plan. It is the jet fuel for all of your fundraising appeals regardless of whether it is a direct mail appeal, email, social media, telephone solicitation, face-to-face pledge drive or special event.

shutdown2When crafting your case for support, this is what our friends in the political fundraising world seem to be telling their non-profit cousins:

  • Make it emotional
  • Focus on an issue that people care about
  • Choose an issue that donors and the media will talk about and magnify
  • Wrap marketing efforts around your fundraising efforts
  • Where possible, infuse advocacy into the appeal

For those of you who are skeptical and find yourself thinking at the end of this blog post that non-profit organizations can’t “manufacture” a crisis and weave it into a case for support like politicians, then let me suggest that you open your mind a little more.

I cannot tell you how many agencies I’ve seen neglect their buildings by minimally investing in maintenance and upkeep. In the final analysis, aren’t those agencies just slowly creating a powerful capital campaign case for support for down the road? Maybe it is purposeful and maybe it isn’t, but the fact that it is a manufactured crisis cannot be denied.

There are plenty of needs and gaps in our communities around which non-profit organizations can build a powerful case for support. We don’t need to manufacture crisis to raise money like our political counterparts, but it does happen more often than you think.

So, what are you waiting for?

It is the fourth quarter and year-end fundraising is one of the biggest shows on Earth. Start writing your case for support document today so you can transform it into an eloquent and powerful fundraising appeal in the next few weeks.

But whatever you do, please don’t “shutdown” your agency to make a buck or two. I suspect donors can only handle this strategy in small doses.  😉

And I am making a mental note to myself . . . perhaps, I need to stop tuning out politicians on a daily basis so they stop doing drastic things to get my attention.  😉   (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.)

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Is your non-profit preparing for the Times Square countdown?


santa letterI spent a decent amount of time last week in the car. When I do that, I typically listen to National Public Radio (NPR), which in the Chicago market is WBEZ 91.5 FM. So, all week long I heard how they were approaching the end of their fiscal year and how they need to hit their pledge drive goal.

When I woke up this morning, I had a few thoughts racing through my head:

  1. OMG . . . it is July! How did THAT happen?
  2. I wonder if WBEZ made its pledge drive goal?
  3. I wonder how many other non-profits that don’t have June 30th year end financials are preparing for their December 31st year-end push?

I remember when I was on the front line and making decisions about fundraising matters. I typically wanted my year-end fundraising efforts and mailings to hit the post office in the beginning of November.

When I gave donors a few weeks before Thanksgiving to consider what they want to do with their year-end charitable giving, it usually worked out better. I tested all sorts of different launch times over the years, and the beginning of November always produced the best results.

So, if your agency follows the same blueprint . . . guess what? You only have four months left to get all of your ducks in a row.

My best advice is to get to work NOW and avoid the last minute rush. Why? Because in my experience the last minute rush always resulted in unexpected hiccups and delays in getting the mailings to the post office.

I’m not suggesting that you write your letter today (but I wouldn’t discourage it either), but there are things you can start doing now that will help you later. Here is a short laundry list of those things:

  • Determine your theme.
  • Put together your project management plan and establish deadlines.
  • Write your internal case for support, which will be the basis of your letter and package.
  • Pull together a focus group of donors and test your case for support.
  • Use the input that you get back from your donors to tweak your messaging and theme.
  • If you like to incorporate a client story into your year-end appeal, then start identifying the client and their story now.
  • We all know that the mailing list is the biggest factor in your success. So, start building your list today. It takes time to wrestle with your donor database and work with a mail house.
  • Plan on mailing out a cultivation / stewardship letter four to six weeks prior to mailing your year-end appeal. Start developing that messaging and package today.
  • Use social media to cultivate and steward your year-end donors. Develop a three month campaign that leads up to and culminates in the launch of your appeal in early November. This obviously starts NOW.

Your agency is probably preparing to march in a Fourth of July parade in the next few days, and year-end thoughts are probably far away, but don’t blink! Because Santa Claus will be coming down the chimney any day now.

You know I’m right!

Still not convinced? Well, consider the fact that more than one-third (and I’ve recently read it could be as big as one-half) of all charitable giving happens in the fourth quarter during the holiday season.

I’ll leave you with this thought and popular expression: “Prior proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.” I’ve heard it referred to as the Seven P’s.

When does your agency start preparing for its year-end appeal? What goes into your planning? What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced? When do you plan on starting this year?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Fewer statistics and more stories, please?


dataAs someone who blogs every day, I find it necessary to read a lot of other people’s blogs, too. Every one in a while, I come across something that gets me thinking. If it is really good or cuts against the grain of something I believe, I might mentally chew on it for days. Two bloggers, who I respect and read a lot, are Jeff Brook at Future Fundraising Now and Marc Pitman (aka The Fundraising Coach). Both of these guys have had me chewing on something recently, and I must admit that my jaw hurts from all that macerating. The topic in question? Should you include statistics in your fundraising appeals?

In recent years, the non-profit sector has been hyper-focused on things like:

  • measuring program outcomes
  • measuring community impact
  • benchmarking projects
  • analytics

I must admit that I’ve bitten into this trend as hard as anyone. I am a bit of a data geek, and I love information. If I were being truthful, I’d even admit that sometimes the old expression “paralysis by analysis ” defines my work (even though I fight hard not to fall into this trap).

The logical extension of these tendencies is to include data and statistics in fundraising appeals, which is something I’ve done for years.

So, when I recently read Future Fundraising Now and The Fundraising Coach, it felt like nails on a chalkboard for a moment. However, I try to read with an open mind, and I must admit that they have a point. Here is how I did an about-face on this subject . . .

hurricane katrinaHurricane Katrina

 As I thought back upon this devastating  natural disaster, I remembered being glued to the radio listening to NPR deliver the blow-by-blow description of what was happening on the Gulf coast. I have very clear memories of my attention waning when the reporter started saying things like:

  • 1.2 million evacuees
  • $81 billion in damage
  • 1,833 deaths

I also remember being glued to my radio as the reporter interviewed individuals who had survived the storm as they told their stories:

  • I remember one woman telling a reporter about climbing into the attic with her family as she watched the water levels fill the first floor of her home and start to consume the second floor.
  • I remember a gentleman talking about how long he had to wait on his roof for rescuers and how hard that ordeal was.
  • I remember  a public official talking about the national guard’s efforts to evacuate trapped senior citizens from a nursing home.

Statistics . . . .Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.  Stories? Please continue … I’m listening!

campfireBefore the written word

There is a lot of debate about how long the written word has played a role in human culture; however, I think it is fair to say that literacy rates only started significantly climbing in the last few hundred years.

So, how did humans communicate to each other important things like:

  • How to appropriately behave?
  • What to value and what is important?
  • Who should do what and by when?

It was storytelling. Sitting around a campfire and telling stories. Passing lessons along from one generation to the next generation by word of mouth in the form of a story with a moral to every story.

Fundraising conclusions

I still believe that measuring community impact and program outcomes is important. Please don’t stop doing this hard and arduous work. It is important to measure for accountability, stewardship and quality control purposes, but . . .

Please stop sharing all of that data with me during the solicitation process.

I want to hear warm fuzzy stories about your clients and how my contribution has contributed to those success stories.

Please train your volunteers to be good storytellers because there is nothing worse that having to sit through lunch with someone who can’t tell a good story. This is an art form. For some people it comes naturally and for others they need substantial training on how to do this.

So where should you put all of your data?

Well, I still believe that this information is an important part of being a good steward of donor dollars.

  • Upload it to your website . . . those donors who love data can find it there, and this sends a strong message about your commitment to transparency.
  • Share some of it in your annual report.
  • Create an impact report and send it to your donors every quarter.
  • Sprinkle some of it into newletter stories.

BUT . . . whatever you do, please don’t share this with me when you’re asking for my money. And if you do, please forgive me for the yawning and vacant blank stare.

If I’ve intrigued you with today’s post, then you may want to check out the blog posts by Jeff and Marc at the following links:

What does your agency do with its data? How much to your share with your donors? How and when do you share it with your donors? Do you include it in your written case for support document and training your volunteer solicitors to use it when soliciting contributions? Do you include it in your direct mail appeal? What has been your experience when using a storytelling approach to fundraising?

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. Why? Because we can all learn from each other!

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

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