Four Things You can Do in August to Raise More Money This Fall

Four Things You can Do in August to Raise More Money This Fall

A few years ago in mid-November, a client asked me whether they could just use the same appeal letter they used last year. That appeal letter had done reasonably well and had surpassed the fundraising results from previous years. The letter and package were attractive, and the instinct to get more mileage out of a good creative product was very understandable. It was also much easier than starting over in mid-November.

“Sounds good,” I replied after I reviewed the package. “But why don’t we try asking for money this year.”

She had raised nearly $10,000 from her ~1,100 donors without actually asking for money – she had used a softer “please be generous this Holiday Season” message. At my insistence, we printed a very strong, specific ask: “Please consider a gift this year of $100 or more.” The same package, mailed to almost the same 1,100 donors raised $25,000 that year.

It’s August. We’ve got another three months before we have to worry about this stuff, right? In fact, it’s somewhat of a badge of honor that, every year, we scramble around in mid-November, at the very last minute, working 20-hour days, fighting with the printer, and eating way too much pizza, all to get the appeal out by the last possible second. Just call me Indiana Jones.

Stop it.

You can get out ahead of this November stress factory. Plus, you can probably raise more money in the process. Here are four things you can do right now that will help.

1. Write your fall fundraising letter NOW.

In fact, write two letters. Write one as a more-or-less standard “annual report”-style letter about how successful your year has been, how much is left to do next year, and how much the donor’s continued support is critical to making all this wonderful stuff possible. Write it from the third person perspective, but tell stories that show the organization’s impact on people’s lives and portray the donor as the story’s hero.

The second letter could be written using a first person voice from someone whose perspective the reader doesn’t expect. Your land steward, a long-time volunteer, or one of your easement landowners. I saw an effective letter written from the perspective of the stewardship truck who, still sitting at the dealer’s lot, couldn’t wait to be put to work. Be creative. Be corny.

Creative writing ALWAYS benefits from rest periods. So write your letters now. Then put them away for a couple of weeks. While they’re resting, you might try reading Jeff Brooks’ book on writing fundraising letters: A Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications. Then bring the letters out again and edit them into their final form. Make sure they’re long enough. Make sure they’ve been written to be easily read by older, female donors. Make sure you have a PS note. And make sure the ask is specific.

2. Get your mailing list ready now, too.

While you’re at it, remove all the donors who normally renew their membership during the fall months from your appeal list, too. Concentrate your fundraising effort on renewing their membership. Members renew at 70% or better. Appeals get a 25-35% response rate. If the two letters will conflict, send the renewal and don’t send the appeal. It’s counter-intuitive, but you’ll raise more money.

Very little could change in the next few months that would add people to or subtract people from your mailing list. So go ahead and get it ready now. Run your query, remove all the DONOTSOLICIT donors, check for duplicates, and otherwise clean it up.

3. Segment the remaining list.

At the very least, separate it into three lists:

    • One for people whose largest gift in the last 18 months has been $100 or less. Call this your C LIST. Note that the C LIST could include anyone having not given at all in the last 18 months (lapsed members).
    • One for people whose largest gift in the last 18 months has been between $101 and $250. The B LIST.
    • And one for people whose largest gift in the last 18 months has been $251 or more. This is your A LIST.The B LIST gets the same letter the C LIST did except that the ask amount is $250.If you normally produce your letters “in-house”, go ahead and print the B and C LIST letters now. Decide when you want the letters go into the mail, date the letters accordingly, and give your LaserJet a workout. Gather the volunteers. Fold, seal, and stamp. Box up the sealed letters for mailing later.

Consider everyone on the A LIST individually. C’mon, it’s August. You have time! Look at their giving history. Look at how long they’ve been giving. Look at what they gave to the appeal last year. Craft a special letter for each individual, perhaps based on the standard letter but personalized. I’ve asked some clients to organize board members to write these letters by hand – the entire letter. Those that did got a great response.

Ask everyone on the C LIST for $100. Don’t be afraid. You can do this. Be direct and blunt. “We’re asking everyone to pitch in $100 this year. If you can do more, please be as generous as possible. If $100 is uncomfortable, please do what you can. Every gift is important. No gift is too small to make a difference.” Your response card should read: “$100_____   Other____”

4. Finally, think about supporting the stories and messages in your appeal letters.

The more you can get organized now, the more effective the product will be and the more smoothly your fall months will run. Plus, if you can get the lion’s share of the appeal work done now, you can also spend that time meeting with donors in the fall.

What else could you get out of the way now?

Use your other communications channels: your website, newsletter and e-news, email taglines, Facebook, and so on. Parts of the appeal letter will make a good Chair or ED column for your printed newsletter. The more directions from which your donors hear something, the more likely they are to pay attention. The more they pay attention, the more likely it is that they will be supportive.


Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust.

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