Yearend Appeals: Navigating the Solicitation Deluge
By Diane Remin
Come December, many donors will have a large stack of annual appeal letters that have been accumulating since early November. And theyre being bombarded with e-solicitations. Hopefully, you will be in that stack.
If not, consider starting earlier next year. The competition is fierce.
Whether you are just getting out of the starting gate or are in the midst of your yearend appeal program, here are a few December tips:
Diane Remin is the founder and president of MajorDonors.com, which gives small-to-mid-sized nonprofits everything they need to launch a major gift and/or planned giving programs. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @DianeRemin © 2012 RemRol Computer Services, Inc. dba Major Donors.com. All rights reserved.
- If you are scrambling, focus on the people who donated at yearend last year. If you are new at this, include on your list everyone you have encountered during the year. Involve board members and other key volunteers. Ask for names of friends and colleagues they may be willing to introduce to your organization. Encourage hand-written notes on appeal letters as well as follow-up calls.
- Direct mail is still the beast. Online giving is growing rapidly, especially at smaller organizations, but in absolute numbers it accounts for less than ten percent of total giving. A 2010 study by Dunham+ Company indicated that direct mail drives more online giving than online communications. Multi-channel is the way to go. Some donors still want to write a check or use your reply vehicle for their credit card information. For others, the direct mail piece prompts them to go online and make the gift. There is still time to get a letter out the door. Be certain to track how your donors make their gifts.
- Compete based on compelling stories, impact and urgency. This is what inspires donors. Why you? What did you do with their last gift? What will you do with this gift? Why now?
- At this time of year, one solicitation is not enough. Many donors give once a year now. If you dont find your way onto their radar screen, you wont get a gift. Make certain each appeal you send is personal and continues building the relationship. Use multiple channels. Be reasonable in terms of quantity.
- Circle the yous in your appeals. They should outnumber the wes. Communication expert Tom Ahern makes the point this way: corporate communications sound like: we did this and we did that. Nonprofit communications should sound like: you [the donor] did this and you did that.
- Make it easy for donors to give. Can a donor find your Donate button in a second or two? Some organizations revise their websites Homepage for December to make the Donate button front and center (it should always be easy to find).
- Get on the phone. This is a great way to involve your board or other volunteers. Even if you cant possibly reach out to all of your donors, call as many as you can. Some is better than none. A message that begins, Hi, Im Susie Smith and I serve on the board of [or volunteer at].....helps move you to the top of the stack.
- Send three December online solicitations to donors who have not yet responded to your earlier efforts: one on the 23rd or 24th, one on the 29th or 30th and one on the 31st. Network for Good published the seminal study on online giving in 2010 (www.onlinegiving.org). There is a big spike in online giving during December, but online giving goes off the charts the last two days of the month. Its a competitive moment, but you want to be certain your organization has a chance during that last minute flurry.
- Capture as much information as you can about your donors during the year, and Im talking about basics like, name, address, telephone number and email as well as particular area(s) of interest. Many organizations only have email addresses, for example. This lack of data hamstrings you at yearend.
- Promptly thank your donors with thank you letters that sparkle and as many telephone calls and hand-written notes as you can manage. As Penelope Burks research uncovered: Call all first-time donors within the first forty-eight hours and your donor retention rates will increaseeven if you leave a voicemail message. If board members can make those calls, even better. A strong thank you system will prime the pump for next year.