President Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: (845) 255-5722 x100
The Fall appeal cycle will be upon us soon, and we see a lot of non-profits getting poor results from their direct-mail fundraising efforts, or worse, mediocre results. Poor results would at least bring the opportunity to pause and reflect on how the organization is not connecting with its base (or perhaps even themselves). With mediocre results, non-profits tend to dial it in each year, accepting of a 5 – 10% swing up or down, taking only mild corrective actions.
If you *really* want your organization to be effective at direct-mail fundraising, we have six (6) sure-fire steps you can take. How do we know? After 50 years of Cornerstone staff experience in working in, and for IRS 501(c)3, 501(4) and 501(c)6 organizations, we’d have to be idiots not to have noticed what works and what doesn’t work.
Here are unique preparatory steps you can take to set up your pins for strikes in each cyclical calendar frame.
#1 BOARD MEMBER CHANGES:
As an ED (Executive Director), we suggest you take a hard look at all the “good” members on your Board, and see honestly if they should be on the Board. You may have picked many of them. We define “Good” board members as those who donate occasionally to the organization, show up to most meetings, might run a committee if asked and/or will “volunteer” for leadership tasks when pressed. If this is your board make-up, then you may need to ask these individuals if they could do something else to assist the organization.
Leadership starts at the top. For most boards there are only two reasons why anyone should be on a not-for-profit board. One, he or she has cash, or, has access to cash. Two, he or she assumes a leadership role whereby the organization directly attracts contributions on an on-going basis.
Leadership starts at the top – there is no room for dialing it in when you are competing for scarcely available funds.
#2 MISSION CRITICAL:
Many boards, EDs and staff members sort of know what is the mission and purpose of the organization, but they certainly could not recite for you verbatim. Before each board meeting, at the beginning of each day, connect to “why we’re here”. This directive will allow all people inside the organization to focus on your unique, non-profit purpose (both internally and outside the organization). It is the goal across the lake towards which you tack your boat – Why Do We Exist? Don’t assume that everyone kind-of knows. Make a poster and put it on the walls or even in the bathroom.
#3 JUSTIFYING THE ASK:
At the end of, or even during, the fiscal year, when you want contributors to help pay for your efforts, you first need to get them to pay attention. We call this “Justifying the Ask”. Translation: prior to asking for donations, in what non-cash out-reach activities did you engage your donors so that they connected with both your staff and the mission of the organization? Examples of what you could do well in advance of an appeal:
#4 TAKING NAMES 24/7:
Get names, take names, ask for names at all events. Get complete contact information. If possible, take down pronunciation cues and details about when and how you (or someone like you) met them. Why did they show up at a lecture? What might cause them to be interested in your organization? Did they send an email? Well, reverse engineer the email address and put them into your foundationware database.
In short, if someone has “touched” your organization, you have to make it a “must” for them to be included in your world. Remember, as per an earlier blog: the best data you can buy, is data you can’t buy; and, the cost of acquisition for names by any other method is exceptionally high. Also, good data is more important than a good appeal letter.
#5 PLANNING THE APPEAL:
Each year, pick a fund-raising goal. You need a goal. Then, write down a schedule with which you can live for doing your mailing appeals. Have a mild playbook for how the appeal will be executed along with how the organization will make good on any shortfall. In our view, there should be at least one annual direct mail appeal a year, preferably two, aside from other efforts.
Also, plan how much you want to take in and be prepared to have board members step in to make phone calls to select (VIP) non-contributors if the target isn’t hit. If you have a larger organization, then you may delineate between donor, non-donor, VIP donor, but we feel that it is very important to have a consistent schedule and plan-of-action which includes everyone.
It doesn’t matter when you make your appeal, except don’t do it around tax time. The Rudolf Steiner organizations, for example, often fund-raise early in the calendar year, but they are consistent.
#6 HOW TO APPEAL:
Almost no one is going to read your appeal letter entirely, except maybe the very elderly. Therefore, keep it short and sweet. Use images over text, especially long copy.
Read your mission statement before writing the solicitation letter and make sure each image tells a story in line with the mission statement. Scan signatures where possible, or personally sign the top 10% donor letters.
Send out Thank You notes, cards or postcards and state the contribution amount. People like these cards because they can be given to their bookkeepers for tax-deduction accounting.
In short, yes, it takes time to make time, and to raise funds, and you first have to raise the collective awareness of your staff, your donors and that of the community. However, if it were easy, you would already know the short-cut. So good luck, and get to work!
My name is Sean Griffin and I’m here to help. I am a professional fundraiser and a former Executive Director of a regional membership organization and national foundation. I may be reached at email@example.com or at (845) 255-5722 ex. 100