Nonprofit Horror Story: The Last-Minute Fundraising Appeal
I can remember the day just like it was yesterday—that dreaded moment when my director of development approached me and said:
“We need you to get an appeal out. And it should have gone out last week.”
As you might imagine, I was gobsmacked. To provide context, I was a mere two weeks into my job as dedicated grant proposal writer and had been pulled off task so frequently that I still had no idea what this particular organization had done in terms of past grants.
And now, it was happening yet again. Only this time, she picked up on my feelings.
“But you write so beautifully,” my director of development wheedled. “I know you can make this work!”
If there was one thing she had learned about me, it was that I loved a good challenge. In fact, I still do.
So I began with what I felt was a fair question: “Can you tell me about your donors?”
And that was the moment when I learned there was essentially no database. Or that rather, there kinda-sorta was, but we hadn’t paid for support or upgrades for years. So donor information, what little we had, was stored in an Excel file. Yes, you heard that right. An Excel file.
“When does this need to go out?” was my next question.
It was Monday. I had until that Friday to write, print, get signed and send out our annual fundraising appeal to more than 1,700 donors. In-house. It was a daunting task, to say the least.
But guess what? We made it happen. (You're not surprised, are you? We nonprofit unicorns are nothing if not resourceful).
We made the deadline, and we even raised more money than the prior year’s appeal. Not by a lot, of course. And probably only because I insisted on the highest degree of personalization possible in such a short period of time.
But I was haunted by the knowledge of what I could have done—if only I'd had the time to plan. How we could have increased revenue—and engagement—with segmentation, instead of a one-size-fits-all letter.
Running a successful year-end campaign takes a system. Especially these days, when you’re not only coordinating your direct mail, but also integrating your email, your online giving, giving days and more.
And it takes more than just five days.
So what’s my advice to you, right here and right now?
We’re already in mid-August and, in a blink of an eye, 2016 will be over. Begin planning now. Here’s what you need to get started:
Solid storytelling is the foundation of every successful fundraising program. Find your best, most emotionally compelling story for your organization’s year-end campaign. Make sure it’s something that translates well in every medium—from direct mail, to email, to online, to social. Will your campaign have a theme?
Review your database with an eye on segmenting as much as possible. Think beyond giving amounts and dive into your donors’ motivations for giving.
What needs to happen on your website? Will you be implementing a home page takeover? How will you integrate your direct mail with your email?
Your Board and Staff
How will your board members be involved in your year-end campaign? Will they be writing individual notes, making phone calls?
If you’d like to get a head start on planning your best year-end fundraising campaign, fear not! Basics & More is offering a six-week training created to guide your nonprofit, step-by-step, to your successful year-end campaign.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.