I just emailed a letter, response form and list to the mail house. Our base tends to be generous at this time of year. (Yours probably is, too.) There’s a lot riding on this appeal, and I’ve spent a many hours on my offer, my story, my response piece… every detail I can think of. Now I nervously await the returns.
At my (new to me) organization, this particular mailing has long been known as the “annual appeal”. No more. I call it the “fall appeal”, because I plan to give it a lot of company.
Asking once a year is not nearly enough. If you want to succeed, you need to build a schedule of asking throughout your year.
“But”, you may say, “I don’t have the [money, time, staff] to do this over and over again through the year! The annual appeal is our one big push. Then I can focus on the gala and corporate sponsorships.”
Well, you don’t need to do giant mailings to everyone on your list every time. In fact, you should take a good look at your list and start segmenting it. Ask the people who’ve already said yes often or recently more. Ask the people who gave once a few years back less.
Remember to build genuine, sincere thanks into this schedule. Don’t ask again until you’ve thanked those who’ve given! (But since you’re doing that right away, that shouldn’t be a problem, right?)
Then ask. And ask again.
There are a few reasons why:
First – people give because they’re asked to give.
It’s rare to have money showered on your organization out of the blue. And I’ll bet that even with those out of the blue gifts, at some point, someone asked.
Second – don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll get read.
You’re playing percentages here – hoping if you send lots of appeals out, you’ll get enough people to open the envelope. Though it’s painful to think about, much of your hard work will end up in the recycle bin. Once the envelope is opened, you have to hope it gets read. Most people will skim, not read. Another batch in the bin. A few people will read your appeal, or will put the response piece aside after skimming it. Those are the few you’re really asking.
Last – you can’t know if your timing is right.
Even if that letter of yours successfully runs the gamut above, even if your reader is moved to help – it might not be the right time. The hot water heater just broke, and there’s nothing left over right now to send. Or the government shutdown is making your reader nervous. Or she just made a big gift to another charity. These are not things you can control. But you should take them into consideration when you fear asking too much.
When you step up your schedule, you might hear from a person or two with a complaint. They might request you only ask once a year. They might tell you they gave just last spring, and that’s it for a while. Use the opportunity to connect with them. Mark their record accordingly. And follow their request. But don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re a representative sample!
I know I’ve been pushing out appeals since I arrived at this new job. And I have a pretty busy schedule of solicitations lined up through the end of the year. Some people will be asked often. Some will be asked a few times. Most will receive a combination of mail and email appeals. These will all be mixed with opportunities to just say thanks.
Of course, I can’t be sure my plan will succeed. I’ll use what I learn this go-round to adjust for next time. But there’s one thing I’m sure of: next time will not be a year from now!