Without a doubt, fundraising is the biggest challenge nonprofit organizations face. But there are tried and true fundamentals that are essential to the success of a campaign. Read on to learn all 10.

1. Current donors, keep them involved and generous.

Current donors have already invested in your organization. They want to continue to support you.

  • Respond promptly. As soon as you receive a donation, you must respond to each gift promptly and with as much personalization as appropriate. Let them know specifically what their gift will provide. Consider a thank you phone call. Encourage an additional gift when you do.
  • Send newsletters. Show your donors how their donation makes a difference. Invite them to participate in your activities.
  • Communicate regularly. Connect with your donors several times a year, at least four. Always ask for a donation and make it easy for them to respond.

2. Acquiring new donors

Soliciting new donors is the most difficult part of fundraising.

  • Expect to lose money initially. At this stage you are looking for new donors more than the donation itself. Focus on the lifetime value of a new donor.
  • Make your value proposition compelling. Remember you are competing for their support with other worthwhile nonprofits.
  • Use list profiling to find more prospects (see #4 below).

3. Email vs Direct Mail

There are pros and cons to both email and direct mail. Consider a combination of both.

  • Email is less expensive than direct mail.
  • Email is flexible. You can change your message quickly and respond to events.
  • Email may not get through. You are competing with a deluge of other electronic messages.
  • Nearly everyone has a spam filter and your message may not be read or may be deleted.
  • Email addresses are often not available.
  • Direct mail is more costly due to printing, mailing and postage costs.
  • Mail is not delivered immediately and it’s more difficult to change.
  • Direct mail is more targetable than email. Unlike most other media you can select your target audience and deliver your message directly to their home or office. Your offer can be customized to the recipient’s known behaviors.
  • Direct mail is more personal .Most people perceive mail as more personal and important than other media.
  • Mail is tangible and includes a response device. All direct mail is dimensional and the recipient interacts with it in both a visual and a tactile way. Unlike email, the recipient can’t just hit delete to make your message disappear.
  • Mail is flexible. You can easily customize your message to your target audience. Your donors and prospects respond to different types of media. Many will prefer the personal touch of mail.
  • Results are measurable.
  • Mail is more private and secure. According to recent USPS research: Two-thirds of Americans view traditional mail as more personal than internet communications and say mail is more private than email. 68% of Americans say mail is more secure than internet communications.
  • Lists are more available. Addresses and behavioral and demographic information are readily available.

4. Lists

The mailing list is the single most important component of your appeal. Obviously, the best list is your list of current donors. But don’t forget to occasionally solicit lapsed donors. Consider telemarketing to those audiences in addition to mail.

Keep your donor mailing lists up to date. Obsolete data not only costs you money spent on undeliverable or misdirected mail, but can cause lost donations and can impact donor goodwill. Studies have found that on average, up to 20% of records within a typical house file are undeliverable. By keeping your data current, you will save on printing, mailing and postage costs. And the US Postal Service now requires you to comply with their Move Update regulations by updating your lists every 95 days.

There are several important list hygiene tools available to keep your data clean and accurate.

    • National Change of Address (NCOA) for new addresses of people who have moved
    • Deduping
    • “Do not mail” purging
    • Deceased recipient purging
    • Apartment number appending to increase deliverability.

The benefits of keeping your lists up to date include

  • Control mailing waste to save on postage and printing.
  • Reduce lost donations.
  • Increase donor loyalty.

Finding lists of prospective donors can be daunting. However there are several guidelines.

Trade lists others. Your list is not as exclusive as you think. Test lists to insure maximum results for your ongoing campaigns.

Target your lists. When searching for prospect lists, look for individuals who are sympathetic to your mission, are mail responsive, and have the capacity to give. By utilizing available list targeting tools it is possible to find prospects that most closely resemble your best donors. You can customize a list to your specific cause and overlay demographic and psychographic intelligence onto your donor data.

Profile you donor list. Sophisticated list profiling is now a reality. Through a powerful array of new market segmentation tools you can profile the unique characteristics of your best donors and identify and target new prospects most like them. This allows you to open new channels to reach your donors and prospects using the methods they prefer. You can send more specific, personalized offers (as opposed to generic, one-size-fits-all appeals). The results can boost your direct response rate, increase your market penetration, and dramatically improve your fundraising ROI. Eye/Comm can show you how.

5. Copy

Letters are used almost exclusively in direct mail appeals.

Use a conversational tone. When writing copy, think of two friends having a cup of coffee in the kitchen on a Saturday morning. One friend tells the story. Your reader isn’t really interested in statistics; “How many people we served”, “Numbers of scholarships”, “Concerts performed”. They want to know about one person or a small number of people they can relate to.

Add a headline and a PS. You may wish to have a headline above the salutation. Almost always include at least one PS. Sometimes the only things your reader looks at are the headline and the PS. Tie the two together so the reader gets the message even if that’s all she reads.

Tailor your copy to your audience. An audience of ex patients is different than an audience of music lovers. Education level is not important. Discuss the consequences if you don’t raise the money, but be cautious.

Don’t be afraid of a long letter. The letter should be long enough to tell your story and not one word longer. End a page in the middle of a sentence to force the reader to continue. Edit ruthlessly. Don’t start your appeal with “I’m writing to you because…” Every word should have a purpose. The words “the” and “that” are usually unnecessary. Ask for the money!

Consider copy on the envelope. What you say must compel the reader to open it.

Use a live stamp. It adds legitimacy to the mail piece.

Consider a lift note. It can reinforce your story and boost response.

Make it easy for the reader to respond. Include a return envelope, with prepaid postage if you have the budget. Include a toll-free phone number and a web site address where the reader can make a donation now.

Keep your message consistent. Tie all elements of the package together.

See what’s working. Look at the mail you get from other non profits and use the ideas you like in your own appeals.

6. Production

You have your lists and your copy. Now it’s time to produce the package and mail it.

Cost is not as important as the response. It’s easy to think the less money you spend on production the greater the potential for success. But if a more expensive package gets twice the response, your ROI is better. Test different formats to see which works the best.

Use a reputable graphic designer with experience in fundraising appeals. Design the package using standard sizes like a #10 envelope to keep cost down.

Personalize or not? Generic letters cost less, but personalized letters can boost response. The most effective personalization goes beyond a name. Use whatever information you have about a donor to add a personal touch, such as what their last donation bought, programs in their area made possible by your organization, or the number of years they have supported you.

Allow enough time. In general, design and art will take 1 to 2 weeks, printing about a week, mailing services about 3 days.

7. Timing and drop dates

Decide when you want the mail to be in homes.

Mail in the Fall. Donors may be motivated by year-end tax breaks for charitable giving. In 2008, September had the best non profit response rate. January has also shown good response rates, possibly because people are still in the holiday spirit and may have passed on Fall giving opportunities. A bad time is mid summer. If there is an event relevant to your cause, mail around that time.

Mail often. Tests have shown that a second mailing of the same piece to the same list usually generates 50% of the response of the first mailing.

Back-time your mail date from the date you want the mail in homes. The San Diego Post Office generally delivers in one to two days for local addresses. The average delivery for standard mail nationwide is 13.6 days, but can take longer to the east coast.

8. Nonprofit mailing permit

Nonprofit postage rates are about 45% less than regular standard mail rates.

Nonprofit authorization from the USPS. To mail at these reduced rates you must have authorization from the Postal Service. Most 501c3 organizations qualify. The fee for a non profit mailing permit is $185 per year. The permit is only good at the Post Office where it is issued, but you can get authorization to mail from another post office at no additional cost. Mail entered at the San Diego Main Post Office delivering to San Diego County addresses receives a $0.043 discount per piece.

Nonprofit compliance. Some restrictions apply to what can be mailed at nonprofit rates. For instance you cannot list an insurance company as a cosponsor. The mail piece must be about fundraising, like an event, golf tournament, or asking for money. Sponsors and their logos can be shown as long as they are not sharing in any donations. Eye/Comm can supply you with the complete regulations.

9. Testing

Direct mail advertising is unique because it provides measurable results. By testing and tracking you can determine the most effective lists, offers and creative.

There are three factors that determine the success of your direct mail campaign. 40% is the list. 40% is the offer or cause. And 20% is the creative. Test each one to find what works best.

  • Test lists from different sources using the same offer to see which get the best response. Then use those for future mailings.
  • Test offers such as premiums, different suggested donation amounts, or beneficiaries to find out what works.
  • Test creative by using different designs and different copy. Test different formats such as postcards, envelopes or self-mailers.

Stick with what generates the best response. Remember to test only one thing at a time. If you test a new list and new offer at the same time you won’t know which was responsible for the result.

10. Backend analysis

Track responses to determine your return on investment and see what worked and what didn’t. Code your response device for each list or each version. For phone or web response use different phone numbers or web addresses for each list. Analyze the responses:

  • Mine the best intelligence from your response.
  • Update your donor list.
  • Drop lists that don’t perform and add to those that do.
  • Evaluate your ROI.
  • Find response trends to improve the ROI for future campaigns.
  • Improve your offers and creative to maximize response.
Learn 20 Ways To Reduce Postage Costs

Do you have any questions about your nonprofit mail? Do you need help with your next campaign? Call us at 619-448-6111 or email info@eyecomm.org. We are glad to help!

Article written by Jim Elliott. Jim is the nonprofit marketing expert with Eye/Comm Focused Direct Marketing. He has helped local non profit organizations raise money for over 35 years. Jim has received numerous industry awards, including the Margaret Sellers Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Diego Direct Marketing Association. He has served on the boards of directors for the Mailing and Fulfillment Service Association, the San Diego Direct Marketing Association and the Postal Customer Council of San Diego. He has taught direct marketing classes at USD and UCSD.

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