Every Direct Marketing Fundraiser Should Work in Major Gifts

            Dr. Alice White hated receiving direct mail. But I could always count on her to make a gift… a substantial gift. Our routine was always the same.

As a major gift officer of a large nonprofit, I would send a lengthy unrestricted appeals to my donors, including Dr. White. Nearly every time, she would reply to the appeal with a handwritten note on her personalized stationery. Her notes were well written and her points varied.

Noting the amount and date of her last gift, she once inform me that receiving another solicitation was too soon. In turn, I replied with a handwritten note. I explained that her commitment to our mission compelled me to write about our special initiative and to give her the opportunity to support it. I never apologized, because I didn’t do anything wrong.

I mailed it off to her Bronxville home and waited for her response, which would soon come with a friendly short message and her gift, usually in strange amounts, such as $7,000 or $9,000. Each year, she would make 2 to 3 gifts totaling about $15,000-$20,000.

Alice White never wanted to meet with me on person. She was retired. I invited her to small cultivation events in New York City, but the only time she left her home was to “go down to the A&P” about twice a week. When mailing appeals, I learned to write my own note in Alice’s package (and others), just to let her know I am paying attention.

Not every donor was like Alice White…

For example, Christine Stephens was giving several times each year. Each time, she would give her HPC or more. When she upgraded to $1,000, Christine joined our highly-specialized “Partners” program. Her giving stopped. She was lapsed for two years, when she caught my attention. I reviewing her giving history. The answer was obvious; her only gifts to the organization were telemarketing credit card gifts. The organization does not phone donors who contribute $1,000 or more. I called her and she was happy to make a gift sounding almost apologetic for have not contributed in so long.

I loved working in major gifts. I learned to correspond with each donors in a way that they were comfortable with. A few, like Christine, appreciated the phone calls. Some didn’t appreciate any personalized interaction. I learned to never give up!

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Make the Offer Simple…

Long before email and social media allowed advocacy groups to mobilize, I received a brightly-colored UrgentGram from one organization* alerting me to a key legislative vote scheduled within 60 days. The issue was making news headlines. The UrgentGram was written in brilliant staccato — highlighting the importance of the proposed law and bulleting their grassroots advocacy plan to pass the bill. I was ready to make an upgraded gift to help.

But in the closing lines of the UrgentGram, the executive director urged that I join their new monthly giving program. In fact, he wrote that monthly giving was so important he was going to have someone call me about this program. I was confused! What should I do (1) make that critically important one-time gift to help pass the bill, (2) join the sustainer program instead, or (3) wait for that phone to ring? I waited for a call that never came. I never gave.

As a copywriter and a consultant, it can be increasingly frustrating to be asked to throw in a kitchen sink of various offers. Variety may be the spice of life, but not in asking for contributions. Keep it simple. Please!

Building sustainer programs through their direct mail appeals is a great idea, but be careful. Multiple ask strings (a one-time gift string and a lower monthly gift string) on a single reply form are confusing. And be extra cautious during challenge campaigns: “give $100 by October 31st and your gift will be worth double… or give $15 per month.” That’s ineffective. There are better ways! Test what works. Learn from what doesn’t.

*As I was taking a final look at this article, that same organization, twenty years later, called me about current legislation and I pledged $100 – no request to become a sustainer!

 

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Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen: Package of the Year First Runner Up

POTY2014

June 5, 2014: The Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association held its Package of the Year, with 30% more package entries than last year. The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen’s November 2013 received first runner-up with 14 packages in the renewal/appeal category. The American Farmland Trust won in the category as well as overall package of the year across all four categories. This was a great team effort with the client and our production vendors. Thank you!

 

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Oops!

Oops!

I received this renewal letter in January (with the same letter as a copy effect in February) from a former client. JMC worked with Waterkeeper Alliance over 10 years to build their direct response program. This January renewal package was their most important mailing of the year. This is the first year we did not work on the campaign. While the renewal package format was similar to our previous efforts, the offer and message was changed to include the premiums with membership levels within the letter. I hope this works! It’s unfortunate that the person signing the letter is addressing himself in the third person within the letter.

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Save a penny!

Last month, First Class Postage increased from 46-cents to 49-cents. Did you know that there is a 1-cent discount for metered mail? That’s right. Make sure your office postage meter is set for 48-cents if your mailing is under an ounce! [This is something you may love to tell your finance person if they are sending out checks or invoices through the meter and wasting money!

For NonProfits mailing First Class Presort in some of your mailings, remember that the second ounce is free. If your package has an extra insert, you can breath easier with this discount which has been in effect for several years. As your mailshop for details!

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A New Year’s Resolution… Pay Attention to Your Donor’s Giving Behaviors

     Many years ago, I worked on the major gifts team at a large nonprofit. One of my donors, Cheryl Parker, was lapsing. She was pleased with the organization’s great work. We were just not paying attention to her. You see, Cheryl joined a few years before with a $50 gift in response to the direct mail prospect control package. She received our branded tote bag, We began sending her direct mail.

     Six months later, our TM firm called, and she made that all-important second gift — a generous $100 credit card upgrade. We called again; she gave another $100 credit card gift. Six months later, we called and she upgraded to $250. Another call, and $500, and then a final phone upgrade to $1,000. All credit card gifts through phoning.

     With her $1,000 gift, she left the membership program and upgraded into the development department’s “Partners” major gifts club. In major gifts program, Cheryl received “special treatment”– just a few short mailings on high-quality letterhead each year. (I don’t recall a credit card option in these mailings). And because she was so special, she didn’t receive another one of those terribly pesky telemarketing calls. Why did Cheryl Parker stop giving? Of course, the answer was simple.

    Pressing a few numbers into a phone and I recaptured her support within minutes. If the organization included the 24-hour toll-free number in our major donor mailings, would she have donated? (Toll-free numbers seem to receive big gifts on Saturday mornings.) Perhaps today like many others, she is making online gifts today…

     Pay attention to your donors. More and more donors are receiving your mail, but may be giving online. Some may need a call, even if you don’t like to call them. If you phone a donor, mark that contact on their donor record.

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Is your homepage ready for year-end giving?

Is your homepage ready for year-end giving?

More often, donors — and prospects — are receiving direct mail, yet making their contribution online. Are you opening the door to these generous folks and welcoming them in to your website from your homepage?

The prospects, especially, are not going to personalized urls or purls, they heading straight to your homepage. They want to know about your organization.

With one organization, November 2012 prospecting efforts generated approximately $35,000 in contributions through the mail. But when we matched up the year-end website gifts to the mailfile, we learned that new donors from the campaign generated an additional $31,000 online! The average gift in the mail from the prospect file was $52, but the average online gift for this group was $142. In the case of this campaign, 24% of the gifts were generated online. We also learned that prospects from specific lists were more likely to give online than others.

During other merges throughout the year, this organization generated between 7-15% of new donors online. These percentages are growing. Campaign deadlines and “respond by” dates, increase the response to online giving. So, if you are sending out a challenge by mail, make sure it’s prominent on your homepage.

Your direct mail program may not be dying; its driving donors and prospects to your website. Recognize the trend for online and even mobile giving and pay attention to your online program.

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