26 Apr Are You Ready for May?
May officially starts on Sunday. Are you ready? What is on your To-Do List for May?
Here’s what I’m thinking about:
My Second Spring Appeal Letter: I want my donors to give to the organization twice each year, once to renew their membership, and once in response to an “appeal letter.” Because most donors renew their membership in the fall months, and because I don’t want them to receive the two requests right on top of one another, the Spring Appeal is important.
The first letter should have gone out in April, but there’s still time to get a second, “reminder” letter out as long as it is mailed before Memorial Day. Here’s what I wrote last year:
“I like using the Spring appeal to raise money for a “mission” project rather than just general support. It connects members to specific projects in a way that promotes ownership and makes it more likely they will continue to support the organization, even if they don’t give to the specific appeal. This is because they can see the work getting done.”
Taking Stock of Where I am After April: If you followed my advice last year, you will have a file somewhere in your computer containing your reflections on the first four months of last year. Use it as a baseline to make the same evaluation this year. My wife (who is very wise) has a phrase that I love: “Always maintain a nodding acquaintance with where you’ve come from.” So where did we come from? This is from last year’s post:
“Assume that you are not there a year from now – not anywhere around, in fact. Write your replacement a letter explaining where you are after four months this year. Talk about what your priorities were and how they may have changed over time. Be analytical and reflective, but most of all, be candid. Talk about what you learned and what you might have done differently in hindsight. Talk also about what you’re most proud of, and where your efforts may have been brilliant. If you aren’t there a year from now, your reflections will help whoever is. If you are there, it will provide you an important baseline from which to measure your progress.”
If you did this last year, now is the time to read it. If you did not, do it now for next year!
Donor Events: In May, I’m already thinking about my donor events in the Fall. WHY? – because it takes that long to do it well. Consider this excerpt from what I wrote last year:
“The work of the event is not done from the podium, but rather in the mixing and mingling. The program is therefore kept to an absolute minimum – 20 minutes would be a long program. This implies that staff and board are briefed beforehand on the objectives for each event and know the essential talking points. They are also reminded that the objective is as much about learning about the donors’ reactions to the material as it is about giving them information. And in each case, consider the podium messenger. A partner talking about their relationship with you at an introductory event is better than you talking about you. A landowner talking about their dream for protecting their land can provide powerful testimony for an appreciation event.
Securing My Prospecting Mail Lists: I’m already beginning to think about fall mailings to recruit new members. Getting the lists together is a big part of that. I’m certainly going to recreate my “house list” of lapsed and former members and donors, program and field trip participants, and volunteers. But I’m also going to begin trading or buying other lists.
Lest you be tempted to eschew paper letters for the recruitment task, read this article about the American Cancer Society. ACS stopped all direct mail recruitment for a period of 17 months in 2013 and 2014. New donors declined by 11 percent and ACS is estimating a total 5-year impact (loss) of $30 million, not to mention incalculable losses in planned giving.
Land trusts (and other nonprofit conservation organizations) have found similar results. I don’t know of any land trust organization with more than 1,500-2,000 members that does not depend on a significant direct mail program and budget. Those that have curbed it to save money (or in consideration of using less paper; or in favor of email, social media, or crowd funding) have lost.
Photo credit: Columbine courtesy of Walt Kaesler.
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Will I see you there?
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Here’s what I’m thinking about for April. What are YOU 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. 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: My basic system for renewing members 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?
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. 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. 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.