Direct Mail, Strategy & Planning

Most organizations don’t set out to sabotage their fundraising appeals, but they are doing just that through lack of knowledge, or lack of resources. Trying to save postage by sending only one renewal notice is a losing strategy, not a winning one. Yes, you’ll save postage, but you’ll reduce your income significantly. Learn some of the other ways you may be reducing your fundraising effectiveness.


Sarah: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Sarah Tron with Allegiance Fundraising Group and I will be hosting today’s webinar. Today’s proven practice webinar topic is 12 Ways to Sabotage Your Fundraising Appeals. And our presenter is Virginia Dambach. Virginia works with public radio and television stations around the country, local and regional nonprofit organizations in the areas of development assessment, grant writing, direct marketing and fundraising planning, implementation, and analysis.

Prior to founding your company. Dambach & more, she served as the director of development for Prairie Public Broadcasting, the statewide network here in North Dakota and Nevada Public Radio in Las Vegas. Welcome back, Virginia.

Virginia: Thanks so much, Sarah. And here we go. We’re just going to dive right in. One of the first things you can do to sabotage your fund appeals, is to make your letter or your email, or even your website, hard to read.

You can raise less money by using really big words and Faulkner-inspired sentences, which are things that make the letter hard to read. You can also make it hard to read by leaving no white space where the donor can rest their eyes. And if you use really tiny prints and make people squint to read what you’re asking, that too can just get people to throw your letter away. Improve results by using a large, easy to read fonts, don’t use one of those Gothic ones with all the curlicues. Short informal action-oriented sentences work best. And even though I am a Faulkner gal, I have learned short sentences when writing fundraising letters leave plenty of white space.

That means double space between paragraphs it’s better to go onto the back, have a front and back letter, than to try to squeeze it all onto the first page. Be casual and friendly. This is not the time to pretend you’re writing a term paper and you want to write to one person. I always pictured my grandma. When I’m writing, I picture writing to my grandma, writing to one person, not to a mass of people. Another thing you can do is just to forget everything you’ve ever learned about being donor-centric. Make your letters all about your organization and your station needs and your needs and not about the donor and the impact that their support makes.

You can turn that around by focusing on what the donor wants and needs and gets from supporting your organization. And by relaying how the donor’s generosity has advanced your mission. What have you done for them? You can sabotage appeals by not using all your available channels, failing to use email in your campaigns, failing to do a telemarketing follow-up, not sending letters to online donors.

All of those things can reduce your effectiveness. You can improve results dramatically by sending follow-up email appeals, by making scripted telemarketing calls to non-responders, and by sending mail to those online donors, because many of them are motivated to give by a letter. Make sure your online givers get that direct mail appeal.

Varying the ask is another great way to reduce your income. Your response rate may be as high, but your income will be lower if you hide the ask deep in a long paragraph or at the end of a sentence, and if you delay the ask till the second page, and don’t really get around to telling people why you’re writing to them.

Increase your revenue by putting the ask in a standalone sentence, because it’s going to stand out. Make it easy to find out how much you’re asking for and for what purpose.

You can sabotage your results by leaving the ask amount vague. If you don’t ask for a specific amount, you won’t get a specific amount you’re targeting. If you don’t base the ask on previous giving history, your giving is going to be lower. If you don’t use an upgrade ask string, your dollar amounts are going to be lower.

So remember to ask for a specific amount. Base the ask amount on previous giving and use an upgrade ask string. And what that might look like is, ” Please give generously. Your gift of $60, $45 or even $30 will blah, blah, blah, blah.” And if someone in the past has given you a hundred dollars, you never want them to see $60 again, you want to ask them for more. You don’t want the ask to be lower than what they gave previously.

So you could start their ask string at a hundred and fifty, a hundred and twenty-five or a hundred. So just be very specific because if you’re not specific, if you say whatever you can afford, you’re going to get less than what you would do if you ask for a specific amount. It’s shoot yourself in the foot time.

It’s just like during pledge drives. Look at your pledge drive results and if you are consistently pitching $60 or $75, your average gift for your entire pledge drive is going to hover right around that amount. If you’re asking for $35, your average gift is going to be somewhere around that amount.

The same thing happens in the mail. Don’t enclose a reply envelope. Eliminate that courtesy reply envelope and make it more difficult for donors to respond and they won’t respond in the same numbers and percentages that they would if you enclose that envelope. The worst example I ever saw was somebody who decided to do away with renewal notices altogether, and they just put a little label on the back of their newsletter that said, “Time to renew, send your gift today”. No envelope no letter, no ask amounts, and we wonder why your giving is down.

Don’t update your website or landing page. And if it’s cumbersome and outdated, that’s even better. And if you have a landing page that’s hard to navigate with no donation buttons that are clearly visible, you can make it really difficult for somebody to give. So increase your response rates by making sure your website is professional and it’s up-to-date and designing easy to navigate landing pages that support your fundraising mission and make it easy to make a gift.

Lots of studies show that donors, even those that are writing a check and putting it in the mail, will often go to the website to check you out before they give. And the Direct Marketing Association in a study that was done a couple of years ago said that 56% of those that give on your website were prompted to do so by a direct mail letter. Just one more reason to send mail to those online donors.

Not mailing enough is a way to reduce giving. Sending only one letter will reduce giving. Usually if you do a second drop, in lapsed or add gift, you’re going to generate 50% of what the first drop generated. That’s just an average. See if it works for you.

That’s why we send multiple renewal notices. Because each one builds on the one in the past and more money comes in. If we only sent one renewal notice, we would be leaving a lot of money on the table. So send follow-up mailings and consider the timing of your direct mail and the digital and telemarketing in the context of how your message is going to be received by your audience. Just keep it flowing.

Sarah: Now to piggyback off of that, is it possible to mail too much?

Virginia: It would be like, I would say you don’t want to mail an add gift to somebody that’s in the renewal cycle, because that’s not only too much, it’s confusing. What do we want, do we want to renewal or do we want an add gift?

Sarah: So when you’re mailing an add gift, you’re saying to have a hit one letter, a hit two letter, a hit three letter, and then watch the segmentation so that if they responded to hit one, they’re not going to get hit two and three. It doesn’t matter if it’s mail or email, and it can even be a combination of both mail and email.

Virginia: Yes. A combination of mail and email. It might also be drop one, letter drop two letter, follow-up telemarketing call. All of those things work. And if you happen to be at a time when the feds are trying to cut the budget or whether there has been a huge attack on public broadcasting, sometimes the second drop will raise more than the first drop. I’ve seen it happen in a couple of occasions.

Treating all donors equally. You would think that sounds good, doesn’t it? But it’s not going to raise you more money. If you send the same, thank you to all your donors, regardless of their giving level or their active number of years and other important criteria, you’re going to reduce giving. If you don’t set up targeted communications and cultivation efforts for sustainers and major donors, you’re going to reduce giving. If you ignore mid-level donor potential, you will leave money sitting on the table. The thing to do is to thank and personalize sustainers every year and ask for an upgrade at least once a year. And develop cultivation and stewardship communications and activities for your donors at all levels.

So do discriminate in what you send and how often you send. Just remember that you can never thank donors enough.

Don’t include a PS, if you really want to drop your response rates. And even if you use a PS, but you use the PS to promote something other than making a gift, you’re losing money. The PS needs to reinforce the ask. Sometimes all people do when they’re reading direct mail is they look to make sure you spelled their name right, and they read the PS to see what you really want them to do. And, while we can’t be as blunt as saying, “Send money now,” what we can do is say, “Use the enclosed envelope and send your generous membership contribution today,” or “Your generous gift to KWXY today.” Just make it timely. Tell them what you want them to do, you want them to send the gift, and that you’ve enclosed a courtesy response on both to make it easy for them. Don’t make it complicated.

Sarah: Don’t make them work to give to you,

Virginia: Right. You think my husband would know better, but one time…

Sarah: Okay, you should probably preface this. Why would your husband, why should he know better?

Virginia: Because he’s married to me.

Sarah: Oh, I thought it was because he’d worked in public media.

Virginia: Well, that too, but he’s been trained in development, but he was responding to a letter one time and his check would not fit in the courtesy envelope that they provided. So he just tore it up.

Sarah: Really?

Virginia: That’s an extreme response and I was shocked. Well, always put in a big enough envelope to hold a check. Will do.

Don’t send a prompt thank you. You can reduce your future giving by only sending thank you notes to major donors, by saving money by not sending thank you notes at all, or by thinking that a tax receipt is as good as a thank you. Increase your giving and sustain that giving and retain those donors by sending a warm, personal, and prompt thank you note. And prompt means within five days of getting the gift.

And don’t institute thank you calling. This is one of the coolest things you can do. But you can reduce your giving by thinking that one little thank you letter is enough and by not going the extra mile to make your appreciation memorable. Increase your giving by recruiting your board members and volunteers to help make thank you calls without asking for another gift. You can do this on a monthly basis, on a weekly basis. One of the easiest times to do it is during a pledge drive, so when other people are calling in and pledging, if you have a list of donors who have given to you by whatever means in the last six months, you can call them and just thank them. And people are shocked. People will talk about it for months and tell all their friends, and they will continue giving to you. Penelope Burke at Cygnus Research found that when board members made this kind of follow-up call, subsequent gifts from those specific donors rose by 39%. So there’s a good statistic for you.

But wait, there’s, there is more.

Have you done something that you later regretted? I mean, we’ve all done it, like eliminate the last letter in the renewal cycle to reduce the postage budget or cutting acquisition because it wasn’t profitable in the short run, or declined to expand on a successful digital program, just because it would be more work.

There are lots and lots of ways we can shoot ourselves in the foot when it comes to fundraising. And when you’re pressured to cut something or to reduce something, approach that issue, not from the cost savings, but from the revenue foregone. What revenue are you going to give up this fiscal year, and in future fiscal years? If you’re giving up something that makes money, you’re not really saving, it’s not a good idea. So approach it in those ways because cutting your budget and giving up revenue is also a way to sabotage your fundraising efforts.

Sarah: We had a question pop in. What are some best practice, examples of cultivation and stewardship communication activities? What does that look like, exactly?

Virginia: Sending the prompt thank you, also, the new digital printing on demand just makes this so much easier and so much more affordable than it used to.

Everybody seems to capture program preference information or genre preference information. What type of music, what kind of shows do people watch and listen to? If you find that you have a whole series of great new performance things coming up in the next month, send a postcard to those people who say they like performance, art, who like dance and drama and say, “We know that you like dance and drama. Be sure to tune in next month because we’ve got these three or four things coming your way.” And that can be a postcard, or it can be an email, whatever tools you want to use, but just personalize those messages. Another one that’s worked very successfully for stations is at the six-months point in the donor year, send a checkup card, just like your dentist does, you know, make sure that their name is spelled right, did they get any premiums that they qualified for? Were they in good condition? Is there something that they like or don’t like? Now is the time to address it, because if anybody has a complaint about something, you want that to come out mid-year before they start getting renewal notices. You want everything to be solved by the time a renewal notice goes out. So this is, it’s just a nice way to approach it.

Another thing that many stations do is do a survey asking for people to let you know what their favorite program is, what their favorite genre is, how they learn about your program. One caveat for that is when you find out things, you should be willing to act on them.

Sarah: I think we talked about that in a webinar a couple of months ago.

It’s easy to ask the question what kinds of programming do you like, which specific shows do you like? But if you’re going to ask and not use, why ask? Right. And asking those questions are super easy within Allegiance, you can ask it right on the donate page, you can send out separate survey pages.

Virginia: And then when you find out that information, use that information to do those kinds of customer service things. You can have events in your studio. If you have a live jazz group coming to perform in the studio, inviting major donors or mid-level donors to come and watch a live performance through the studio window.

I mean, you might see it every day, but most people don’t, and they love it. Even inviting donors to come and sit through pledge breaks. They have no idea how it runs and what you do and how you do it. And all of those things bond people to you. I hope I answered your question.

Sarah: We did have a couple of people asking is there an example of fonts and font sizes that you can give that either are your favorites to use or that are shown to be the most effective?

Virginia: Okay, well as we age, 14 point is good, 12 point is minimum anymore. The most readable are something like Times New Roman, New Century School Book, or simply because online has become so common and online, you use a san serif font like Arial. Those are being used more and more in the mail.

Just make sure it’s clean and don’t use a script font. Don’t use a fancy swirly, anything. Don’t use all caps.

Sarah: That’s just shouting.

Virginia: Yep. Just use the most readable fonts. And in the past in print, we were encouraged to use serif fonts because those little tails on the letters help the eye move across the page.

And I think that is still true. Although they’re not finding the results vary as much as they used to between a serif and a sans serif font in mail. You’ll still get good results as long as it’s a readable font.

Sarah: All right. These have all been very good questions.

Thank you for joining us today. I hope you have a fabulous rest of your day. And I hope I see just as many, if not more of you for our next proven practice webinar, Priming the Pump – Pre Asks Increase Results. Until then we will talk to you on the phone, and we will chat with you via email, I’m sure. Thanks again. Thanks. Bye-bye.