Looking Back at 2013’s Last Week of Fundraising, Part 2

Last week, I looked at emails received between Dec. 26 and New Year’s Eve. Clearly, I need to step up my giving, since Larissa Peters at Catholic Relief Services sent me an impressive listing of more than 70 she received in that six-day window. A big “old dog thump-of-the-tail” in appreciation to Larissa!

True confession time: My direct-mail stats are even less impressive. In fact, I only received six pieces over those five mail delivery days. With less ability to time delivery precisely, it is more risky to target a mailing for year-end, unless a nonprofit is willing to pay First Class postage to have some level of confidence that the mail will be delivered on time. However, what I saw in my mailbox represented numerous missed opportunities.

Two of the mailings were acquisition. One had no nod to seasonality and used the now-overworked (in my opinion) teaser promising that it would “never ask for another donation again” if I would only give now. There were photos of children in need of the nonprofit’s services on both the front and back of the envelope, as well as on the letterhead and in the rather copy-heavy brochure that was included. I suspect this is a control (or control wanna-be). I would love to know how this acquisition mailing performed compared to those at other times of the year. My personal response was that a letter, dense information brochure, even-more-dense program-related brochure, insert for me to sign and send back, and a reply card asked a lot from a nondonor at year-end.

The second piece was a 9-inch by 12-inch envelope from Boys Town with winter artwork on the front. (Now that I live in a warm climate, I find pictures of snowmen endearing; that wasn’t the case when I was shoveling the stuff.) This envelope announced three — no, make that four! — free gifts enclosed and had a personalized teaser, also talking about the gifts inside. Sure enough, when I opened it, I found a wall calendar, a pocket calendar, two other versions of a calendar, address labels and a certificate of appreciation.

I’ve received a variation of this mailing at year-end several other times, so I suspect it works. What appealed to me was that it felt seasonal without having to be timed to be in-home in a very narrow window. If I had gotten it anytime from mid-December through early January, it would have felt in-season, and the calendars wouldn’t feel inappropriate. Bottom line: The mailing stood out in a season when “standing out” matters. For a well-chosen target, it very well may break through and get attention — and responses from people who appreciate premiums.

A third mailing was from a nonprofit to which I had donated a gift-in-kind five or six years ago. The letter had a Christmas-related teaser, and the letter was very focused on that just-passed day. The takeaway here is to allow plenty of time for letters with Christmas messages to arrive pre-Christmas (substitute any other holiday that matters to your constituents). Otherwise, you risk having it arrive late, and thus it will feel even less worthy of a glance.

Two additional mailings were from nonprofits I support (but not the one that has averaged one mailing every 10 days for the last five years; I felt forgotten!). Both were timely, but in different ways. One referenced a recent disaster on the carrier (it was from an international relief agency), and the other referenced my 2014 member card. The first risked being overlooked, especially since the addressed side of the envelope was plain white with the messaging and photo on the reverse. The second again was chock-full of premiums to entice the right target to open it and claim the free gifts.

If your organization is not premium-focused, the week between Christmas and New Year’s (or even into January, when donors may be fatigued in general, not just with appeals), my observation is that you’ll need to work harder to capture attention. A “business as usual” mailing risks being set aside (perhaps permanently) or just overlooked by marginally committed, holiday-weary supporters.

The final letter was, I confess, a seed mailing from a year-end appeal from one of my clients. I mention it only because it was the only one that actually referenced (broadly) the year-end. While I don’t know how it performed, there are three things that we focused on that I believe matter for any nonprofit wanting to send out a year-end mailing. First, make it look personal. Mail to your most committed supporters, and build on that relationship. Second, keep it short. Let your donors know that you are aware they are busy with other things and you’re respecting that. Finally, mail with enough padding that it will arrive before the New Year, with language that doesn’t make it feel “wrong” if it happens to get delivered pre-Christmas.

Bottom line: This old dog is seeing less and less mail at year-end, replaced by e-appeals where the delivery date can be controlled. In fact, the dearth of mail tells me there is potentially an opportunity to stand out in the mailbox, if you make sure your year-end mail has the right look and sound and isn’t just a recycled, “one-size-fits-all” mailing that looks vaguely like white noise in the post-Christmas/pre-January week.

Next week I’ll dig into the donation processing I experienced with my year-end giving. So far, it’s looking like some organizations are still digging out …

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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