29 Mar Are You Ready for April?
April officially starts on Friday. Are you ready? What is on your ToDo List for April?
Here’s what I’m thinking about:
Getting My Files Organized: I am – admittedly, and proudly – an “old fart.” I still use paper files and I still depend on them, even though I get better every year at finding things electronically. Regardless, April is a good month to get whatever-files-you-have organized. Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote a year ago related to an imaginary former Board member you might soon be meeting:
“Unfortunately, all too often, the information you need is in the heads of your predecessors, some of whom aren’t on the staff or board any longer. Some of the information is in the database – but the land trust changed systems a few years ago, and not all the information from the old system translated. Her land donation wasn’t even recorded in the old spreadsheet system. That information is in the project files – assuming you think to look there. Her board service is recorded in the board meeting minutes, which go back to the beginning of time in carefully labeled three-ring binders. A Board Director sent her a handwritten card when he found out about her will, but no one copied the card and the fact was never recorded otherwise. And your predecessor just “remembered” to suppress her name from the solicitation each fall.”
If this sounds familiar, take the time in April to get your files (be they paper or electronic) in order. Start with your board members and former board members. Then work on your top donors. Pretend that no one who knows this person is still around. How can you organize the information in such a way that a relative newcomer can learn it quickly?
Renewing Lapsed Members: When renewing members was an important part of my job description, I spent a great deal of time thinking about how to do that. My basic system was to send them a sequence of an email, four letters, and a phone call (usually resulting in a message left on a machine). Still some people simply did not respond at all. And that group represented an important audience for me because wooing them back was easier and cheaper than replacing them with someone new. But how to woo them back?
Last year I wrote: “You could send them another letter, of course. But why not get a little more creative? How about an open house at the office – four times a year. Invite friends, family, board members, volunteers – and LAPSED members. You could even host the open house coincidentally with a board meeting. Board members could be tasked with phoning them and inviting them personally. OR:
- A special field trip,
- A challenge grant,
- A T-shirt or hat premium, or
- [Insert your idea here].
The four times each year that I chose were months that had five Wednesdays. (Read my post from last year to learn why.) This year, we have five Wednesdays in March, June, August, and November.
Donor Screening: Second only to formally soliciting your Board Members to make their own gift commitments, Donor Screening is probably the most important tool for getting Board Members started with major gift fundraising. And April is a great month to do it.
“So here’s the system and process I recommend:
- Start with a list of all your current donors. Define “current” any way you wish, but I usually go back three years, and sometimes five.
- Present the list alphabetically (or alphabetically by zip) with columns for first name, last name, and city/state.
- Ask your screeners to circle people they know personally. Star (*) anyone they feel could give $10,000 or more, given an option of a three-year pledge. Mark each person the organization should consider a board candidate with the capital letter B.
Your board members should be asked to screen the entire list, but keep in mind that other people in the community could have ears to the ground in ways your board members do not.
For more information about donor screening, look on my Resources Page for the Donor Screening fact sheet.
Spring Appeal: If you’re doing a Spring Appeal this year (and I recommend it) you should send it out in April. I like sending Spring Appeals out to members and donors asking them to help with something other than operations; like money to buy a stewardship truck for example, or to raise the closing costs on a spectacular new preserve. One year I used the Spring Appeal to recruit volunteers. There are loads of ideas.
To maximize results, you’ll want to pay attention to all the rules of direct mail marketing, and you’ll want to send out at least one follow-up letter. So – mail the first letter toward the end of April and one the week before Memorial Day.
PS: Fun stuff from my Mailbag last week: “Metrics only matter if they’re actionable…..The truth is, the key to actionable metrics is having as few as possible.” From Marketing Vanity Metrics
Photo by Ravi Pinisetti courtesy of Stocksnap.io.
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Will I see you there?
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Here’s what I’m thinking about for March. What are YOU thinking about?
- Spring Appeal Planning – I could print all of my Spring Appeal letters NOW, even if they won’t be mailed until April or May. Getting ahead is GOOD. I’ll need a great project to raise money for, a four-page letter, something to add texture to the envelope, and a segregated membership list (so I can ask for different amounts from each sub-audience).
- Editing Appeal Letters – The secret to good writing is good editing. I will want to draft my Spring Appeal letter any way it comes out – just to get it done. I’ll make it long enough to work with – 4-5 pages at least. I’ll tell a story and weave the story all the way through. Then, when I’m mostly happy with it, I’ll follow these steps to editing. Much of it is counter-intuitive, so I’ll close my eyes and trust the advice – at least this once – against all objections – and most especially my own. Why? Because I’ll raise more money!
- Print the First Renewal Letters Now – Right now, I know every member who will be renewing this year. I know what they gave last year about this time. And I know what I will be asking them to give this year. In other words, I have everything I need to merge their letters and print them – right now – in March. Why not do it?
- Researching Foundation/Corporate Grants and Calendaring Due Dates – I’m going to take some time now, in March, to schedule and conduct a brainstorming meeting with three or four colleagues – including program staff if possible. Specifically, I’ll be reviewing current grantor relationships and going over where I might be with current funding. I’ll be using volunteers to conduct foundation research, so it will be helpful if that volunteer can participate in this meeting as well. We’ll make a list of grantors and grants of which the group may have personal knowledge. Also we’ll brainstorm a list of key search words the volunteer could use in the research.
- Donor Strategies: Good News, Save the Date – The most persistent barrier to successful major gift fundraising is that board members do not know the donors and donors don’t know the board. Two underused strategies for donor cultivation are Good News and Save the Date events. Good News is just something that has recently happened that I can share before it becomes more commonly known. A project closed, a preserve opened, a nesting pair discovered, a key staff member hired, a child delighted. It can be small or huge. I’m going to make sure that my board members are the conveyors of that news. What matters is that we thought highly enough of the donors’ role that we chose to deliver the news personally. And let’s face facts. Some donors and prospects can’t or won’t meet personally with us. So sending a Save the Date message may prove helpful instead.