It’s never too early to start strategizing for year-end fundraising. In turbulent economic times, a fine-tuned direct mail strategy is more important than ever.
Oh, it’s a long, long time, from May to December, Ol’ Blue Eyes crooned, some seven decades back.
June to December is an entirely different beast—at least for fundraisers in 2023. Let’s hear from the Sultan of Swoon again: But the days grow short when you reach September . . . oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few: September, November.
The croon becomes a caution. Yes, June is in its infancy. No, you can’t wait until September, let alone November, to think about your end-of-year direct mail fundraising. With every precious day that passes, your year-end gifts dwindle away.
Head off the ebb by listening to the fundraising adage: “It’s never too early to plan for end-of-year giving.” It’s true in the best of times—and these are not the best of times. The stormy economy casts a shadow over nonprofit stability. Massive tech layoffs, combined with vertiginous inflation, make a recession seem ever more likely. Donors watch their discretionary income diminish—and, along with it, their ability to give.
This may seem like a doomsday scenario, but every nonprofit professional needs to fight the impulse to abandon their fundraising. Instead, you should embrace reality, then create a clear, savvy fundraising strategy that reflects it. By doing that now, you enable yourself to craft a concrete, realistic plan to turn strategy into action, and action into donor gifts.
It might be tempting to brush this off. You have plenty of time, planning can’t be that urgent.
Think again. Setting a strategy is the first step in what turns out to be hiking a fundraising Appalachian Trail. Deciding budgeting, adjusting staffing, revamping messaging, segmenting donors, scheduling mailings, implementing digital tactics, crafting special major donor outreach . . . all for appeals that should kick off in September! The clock's already ticking.
HOMING IN ON HOW
Where should your strategizing start? Try your direct mail program, a.k.a. your direct channel of communication with your donors. When eliciting generosity is especially difficult, it’s especially important to get the highest-quality appeal possible to your donors at the best possible time.
Direct mail brings in more donations that any other fundraising tool, so it’s worth investing in making it stellar. In order to send out truly top-notch appeals coordinated with your donors’ calendars, you have to invest time. If you first start thinking about messaging in September, you’ll be lucky to get your donors more than a slapdash letter by Thanksgiving.
Fine-tuning your end-of-year direct mail strategy to fit the current moment is both an art and a science—one you should get to work perfecting. Through basic brainstorming and creative implementation, you can develop an appeal that will keep donors engaged and invested, come hell or high water.
GETTING INTO THE NITTY-GRITTY
When you’re thinking through your strategy for end-of-year appeals, the first step is not to overthink it. Don't agonize so much over choosing what mail to send that you don't send any at all. That said, don’t just dust off last year’s plan and proceed with business as usual. It’s time to step outside your comfort zone, put on your organization’s best face, and prepare to captivate givers.
Shooting to “captivate” may sound like a stretch, but when donors have less to give, your messaging has to be especially eye-catching if you’re going to convince them to give to you. It’s time to buff up your ordinary direct mail program, creating messaging that will:
- Get donors to open the envelope;
- Intrigue donors enough to keep them reading;
- Inspire them either to write a check or go to your website to donate; and
- Prompt them to—fingers crossed!—upgrade their previous giving.
That said, while upgrades are ideal, they shouldn’t be your primary goal. Above all else, you want to hold on to your current donors. To that end, your messaging should be designed to:
- Procure a donation of any amount;
- Keep your donors active and engaged;
- Affirm donors’ previous giving; and
- Inform them of the great work their giving is enabling your organization to perform.
INDIVIDUALIZE, CUSTOMIZE, PERSONALIZE
An indispensable element of writing effective direct mail is not treating your donors like carbon copies of one another. The economic downturn doesn’t affect each of them the same way, and their priorities and affinities aren’t identical. Personalizing your messaging will help your appeal strike a chord in each donor’s heart, making them more likely to give.
A great appeal letter will make each donor feel as though you’re talking directly to them. That level of personalization takes—say it with me—time. With enough time, you can incorporate valuable tools for tailoring your communications like:
- Segmentation: carefully segment your donors based on prior giving level or particular affinity for one of your causes or programs;
- Variable copy: using your segmentation, customize your copy to fit the capacity, affinity, and prior activity of your donors;
- Intriguing creative elements: surprise major or long-term donors with more personalized communications like handwritten notes; and
- Message and fundraising offer: tweak your offer to stir in your donors a sense of urgency, a feeling of belonging, and utmost confidence in the important work they’re doing by partnering with your organization.
Half a year, half a year, half a year onward—come December 1st, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, would be disappointed to see you tearing out your hair over desperate last-minute donor outreach. He’d probably say you should have started planning six months ago, i.e., today. I'd say it, too. Start strategizing now; your future self will thank you.