Ah, those crisp new days of fall! Back to school, falling leaves… who doesn’t love it?
Me. I don’t love it. You have to pry summer from my grasping hands.
But fall comes – and winter behind it – regardless. And with it, your biggest fundraising season of the year.
Have you planned to make the most of the next 4 months?
Here are 5 points to keep in mind.
- Don’t plan on one mailing to do the job.
- Do plan to communicate often – but keep it relevant
- Don’t limit your plans – use every tool you can use well
- Don’t forget to get personal
- Pay attention to your results as you go
One is not enough
The old-fashioned “annual appeal” – a once-a-year mailing that would bring in enough to keep you going? It’s gone.
Besides, one-size-fits-all fundraising is less effective. So your general letter won’t be as effective.
You should plan for several solicitations between now and December 31.
That doesn’t mean mailing everyone every time. Know your donors. Mail more often to your current and recent donors – they’re far more likely to give again.
Look at the best timing for your donors. If they’ve responded to an appeal from you every year in mid-October then be sure not to disappoint.
Communicate more in your fall fundraising – but keep it relevant
Don’t send more email and mail “just because”. Make sure your messages are meaningful – to your donors.
Those email newsletters you send every two weeks could either be tremendous assets or a pain. The difference is whether you’re sharing information your donors want to hear.
Having trouble finding meaningful content?
- Go back to your programs. Talk to the people you serve. Ask them what matters, and why.
- Talk to some long-time donors about why they give so loyally. You’ll feel your own passion for the cause growing.
- Tell stories instead of listing your accomplishments.
Use every communication to confirm how important your donors are to your mission.
Keep it all about them. Then you’ll be relevant.
Use every tool in your belt
Don’t choose between mail and email. Don’t eliminate a mail piece because it will save money. And don’t write off the phone even if you’re a small organization.
Even the smallest organization can use mail, email and the phone to raise more money. And you should.
Yes, mail costs money. But it still has the best response rates. Stop mailing to save money and you risk losing contributions.
For many organizations, email alone can’t bring in enough yet. But it can keep you in donors’ minds. And it can amplify your messaging.
Remember: it’s not either/or. Mail and email go together like the cookie and filling in an oreo.
The phone can also be effective – even if you’re not asking for money.
- Bring in your board to make thank you calls.
- Pick up the phone yourself and call a donor a day just to say thanks.
Find out where your donors are. What do they respond to?
Better yet, ask them how they’d prefer to hear about your work. Then follow through. Give donors control over the communications they get from you. It’s a powerful way to show how important they are to you.
The most effective fundraising is face-to-face. At its best, it’s about one person asking another for help.
But even if you can’t meet each donor in person, you don’t have to keep your distance.
Make your mailings as personal as possible:
- Add hand-written notes. (Yes, you can even scan these and add them to the letter. Margin notes and comments in handwriting can be very effective!)
- Tie the ask to their past giving.
- Offer a specific reason to give.
- Refer to their past gifts in your appeal.
- Add something that lets your reader know you know who she is – a long-time donor? Someone with a particular program interest? A volunteer? Use the information you have!
Send handwritten notes – as thanks or to keep donors up to date. Real mail gets noticed.
Or try this: early on, send a thank you note with no ask – just thanks.
Plan a thank you event to meet donors in person:
- Make the event all about them, not about you.
- Your event doesn’t have to be fancy at all. A simple wine and cheese gathering is lovely for fall.
- Ask people who know your programs best to speak about what donors’ gifts make possible. Personal testimonials can be so powerful!
- Consider a small gift as they leave. Even a thoughtful bookmark connected to the cause shows you’re thinking of them.
Watch your results and stay on your toes
I know it sounds contradictory. But you have to plan. And you have to be nimble to succeed.
Every response tells you something, so watch your data carefully. Did the messaging connect? Which email got opened more? How many responses have you gotten in the first week from that mailing? Is that better than the last appeal or worse? Why?
Be ready to adjust your plans at every step of the way.
You can do it!
Take some time now to plan for the fall. You’ll do better and you’ll feel more confident. And when December 31st rolls around, you’ll know you did everything you could to support your mission. That’s a good feeling.
Even if it is winter. Grrr…
Photo: Ryan McGuire at Gratisography