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The End is Coming!

By Mary Walker, Petrus Blog Contributor

The end of the year, that is. 


Did you know that about 1/3 of annual giving happens in December? The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a season that encourages generosity. As a result, nonprofits ramp up their “asks.” Also, in the United States, benefactors want the tax advantage of making a gift by December 31st. 


I recently chatted with Stan Guimont of Palmer Non-Profit Communications about year-end appeals, and we discussed how to best maximize success on the letters we send.  Stan has helped countless nonprofits raise millions of dollars in direct mail campaigns. He’s seen just about every kind of appeal and knows what works. He also recognizes that it costs money to execute a direct mail campaign, and knows where it makes sense to spend to get the best return. 


Stan and I offer answers to questions that might be on your minds as you prepare your year-end appeal letters.


Q: Can’t we save printing costs, paper, and postage by using social media and email for our appeals?


A: Although online giving IS growing, and most of us are becoming more comfortable donating that way, according to the Blackbaud Institute, only about 12% of fundraising dollars come from online sources. 


Direct mail appeals have withstood the test of time, and have been studied extensively to see “what works.” Stories and pictures on paper can evoke emotions in ways that shorter emails and social media posts can’t.


Even the largest and most sophisticated nonprofits use direct mail. Why? Because their benefactors respond to it. Remember—benefactors tend to be “older” and grew up reading snail mail. Younger benefactors are also curious about what’s in their mailboxes.


Today, we can have the best of both worlds with social media and email working ALONG WITH direct mail to improve the results of an appeal. A common appeal strategy is a direct mail solicitation followed by two or three emails, texts and/or social media “reminders” with stories about the impact of your organization. Of course, these reminders should include an easy way to give online. 


Experienced fundraisers believe that many online gifts actually have their start from direct mail. The scenario is: (1) benefactor receives direct mail appeal; (2) benefactor intends to respond later; (3) email reminds the benefactor of their intention; (3) benefactor clicks on the link in the email to make the gift.


Bottomline: You need to have a direct mail appeal as part of your end-of-year plans. Email and social media can amplify a direct mail campaign, but do not replace it. 


Q: What can we do to improve the results of our mailings?


A: (1) Take care of your data—make sure it’s up-to-date. This is an ongoing, boring, and vital task. In fact, I’ve seen TRANFORMATIVE results when organizations do the simple job of cleaning up their data. There is no point in sending a letter to a benefactor who no longer lives at the address—or has died! 


(2) Personalize and customize your requests. This can be as simple as a “Dear Mary” vs. “Dear Friend,” tailoring the amount of the “ask” based on the person’s previous giving history, or including specific text based on the person’s previous involvement with your ministry. All of these are possible, and are not hard or expensive to implement. However, these techniques require “good” data about your benefactors. See (1) above! 


(3) Make it IMPOSSIBLE for the recipient not to open the envelope or packaging. For example, something that is hand-addressed, or looks like it is hand-addressed has an excellent chance of being opened. An appeal that has a “machined” look is much more likely to be thrown in the trash. Think about your own mail. If a hand-addressed letter arrives in your mailbox, you’ll open it even if you don’t know the sender! Also, a good tagline on the envelope can entice the receiver to open the letter.


(4) Pay attention to timing. You have to work backwards from the day you want the appeal to be in the recipient’s mailbox. A Christmas appeal that arrives after Christmas costs your ministry money!


Q: My benefactors don’t care about the tax deduction. Do I really need to remind them to give the last few days of December? I don’t want to nag.


A: It’s not nagging, it’s gently reminding. AND, if you don’t follow up, you are missing out on gifts. In the US, 12% of all giving happens in the last 3 days of the year! While our benefactors may TELL us that they don’t care about the tax implications of their gifts, their actions show another story. Benefactors of means DO pay attention to their taxes, and most would rather pay less and have their favorite charities benefit. Your ministry should be on their minds in the last few days of the year. Social media and email are excellent ways to send out quick reminders, and together, they will build on the great impression you’ve already made in your direct mail appeal.  



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