We Should Mail Fundraising Letters? Really?!? E-mail is So Much Cheaper!
In my last blog, I shared the importance of writing a case statement and its role in guiding all fundraising activities, including grant seeking! I also coached you to establish a board giving policy and to set a realistic fundraising goal. I concluded by coaching you to select and begin using a donor management system and to begin building a matching gift program, which are both critical to a successful sustainable annual fund.
Check, check, check, check, and CHECK!
Well, what's next to establishing a robust, sustainable annual fund?
The next task is to write an annual fund development plan, which serves as the road map to meeting your realistic fundraising goal for the upcoming fiscal year. The key to meeting your fundraising goal, aside from making the goal realistic, is to establish an annual fund development plan that does NOT put all of your eggs into one basket.
Every park foundation or friends group should have multiple fundraising solicitation strategies that make up their annual fund! There is no one size fits all development plan for park foundations or friends groups. However, most organizations will have some common strategies and overlap.
Direct mail fundraising letters are old-fashioned letters that are delivered by the U.S. Postal Service to the prospects' or past donors' homes. Included in the mailing with the persuasive letter that expresses your case is a response device, a pre-addressed return envelope (sometimes postage paid, sometimes not), and usually a free gift or trinket (probably ANOTHER set of personalized return address stickers).
The question, to mail or not mail direct letters, has an easy answer: YES!
Start your annual fund by sending old-fashioned direct mail letters about four times per year through the postal service with matching gift information, a response device, and a return envelope.
I recommend starting with four times per year, once each season including a late fall or early winter end-of-year appeal. First, it makes an ask four-times per year for your annual fund. Remember annual fund DOES NOT mean we ask each prospect or donor one-time each year.....it means we ask multiple times per year, so that we can pay our annual expenses. Second, the USPS will notify you of prospects' and donors' change of address information, so that you can systematically update mailing address information in your donor management system. In essence, the direct mail campaign is critical to maintaining an accurate and up-to-date database.
Many board members will want to eliminate a direct mail campaign simply because of the assumed cost and the seemingly free online options, like crowdfunding, social media use, and online gift processing. No doubt online giving has increased exponentially over the last 15 years. However, organizations that use direct mail in tandem with online strategies tend to raise more money, which means your organization will need to invest in establishing a mobile-friendly web site with a "Donate Now" online gift processing opportunity. You see...many times a donor comes home from work, grabs the mail, sets it on the kitchen counter, starts preparing dinner, finds your direct mail letter in the stack of mail, opens the laptop, navigates to your web site, and makes an online gift. The direct mail letter serves as the reminder to give online. No letter, no online gift...many times!
Many organizations, depending on the number of prospects in the donor management system who receive a direct mail letter, will lose money from the direct mail campaign in Year #1 or even Year #2, but the return on investment Year #3 and beyond has been proven over and over again.
I strongly suggest that all park foundations and friends groups include direct mail as THEEEE core and first fundraising solicitation strategy in their annual fund development plan.
When creating that first appeal letter, your organization should create a donor-centered appeal that highlights the needs of the target audience your organization is serving, not the financial needs of your organization.
Now that your direct mail fundraising is underway, consider establishing a signature special event that metaphorically ties to your mission. Signature events can bring new prospects to your DMS and replace donors who have quit giving to your organization's annual fund. Get creative and don’t default to a golf scramble, 5k, 10k, or typical walk or run event.
Quit living hand to mouth, forget about grants, and ask, Ask, ASK! Usually, people don’t give simply because they’re not asked! Successfully sending letters to mailboxes IS asking!
Over the next few blogs, I'll share more actionable steps to establish an annual fund including tips on establishing a signature special event and a donor acknowledgement process!
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© Dr. Nathan A. Schaumleffel, Terre Haute, Indiana, USA
Photo Credit: Dr. Nathan A. Schaumleffel, Direct Mail Return Address Stickers, Trinkets, and Response Device (December 2015).