|Jumping Those Hurdles
Confront obstacles and improve your next fundraising appeal
Liz Brown, VP, Creative Services
Confront. That may be a bit strong. Sometimes we confront, sometimes we detour, sometimes we make a leap. Whatever the option of choice, it's important to remember that, however frustrating, obstacles do mark the path to improvement.
Here we take a look at some common obstacles to a really successful fundraising appeal and explore solutions.
Budget constraints are forcing you to take a hard look at how you're approaching lapsed donors. You've inherited a file with a lot of unknowns. People who apparently supported before but now?? Hope springs eternal, doesn't it? So how do you decide when it's time to cut your losses?
What can you do? Well, in the best of all possible worlds you'd have analyzed your returns and have an idea of which segments have proved the most responsive. If good analysis presents obstacles, try these three things. 1) Don't include requests to all lapsed individuals in every mailing. Restrict your choices based on recency and size of last gift. 2) Restrict your approaches further by focusing on those who were multiple givers. Studies indicate that they are more likely to return than a one-time giver. 3) Consider trying a very targeted approach to those long lapsed folks, with copy that clearly states that you know they haven't given lately and asking if they'd consider giving again because of some new initiative or circumstance. Sometimes this kind of very direct approach will reinvigorate them.
Your donors are complaining that you approach them too often. We have so many ways to ask these days it's important make sure you have a coordinated view of your points of contact.
What can you do? Put in place ways to address this complaint so that your choices are not "all or nothing." Train you staff to offer these choices. Have step-down options that reduce direct mail to quarterly, semiannually or annually. Ask if they'd like to be removed from e-mail lists. And be sure to schedule when to contact donors with mail restrictions, so they aren't forgotten. Too often the coding of these individuals is inaccurate but never revisited. For example, once upon a time they said - "I don't want to receive invitations" - and you've stopped mailing them anything. Maybe it's time to contact them to update their status.
You're frustrated by your inability to segment your data.
Either your coding is too complex to give you sensible, workable information or your current system is intractable or simply lacking the demographic data and giving history that you really need to target your message.
What can you do? Do not give in to the impulse to be generic. Address yourself to your donors. Generic messages do not generate good response and they don't reinforce that critical relationship with donors. Even the most basic targeting is better than none. At the very least, you need to approach donors in a way that acknowledges they have supported you before. Thank them. Personalize and be as specific as possible. If you can't specifically reference the timing and amounts of their last gift and request an increase, so be it, but at least acknowledge that they've given before.
Everyone is nervous about including major donors in your regular appeals.
So, they are moved out of contact files so that they receive "special treatment" that never really happens.What can you do? See if you can convince the powers that be that it would be appropriate to send them the a copy of the appeal with a personal note from the President or major gifts officer, indicating that you are sharing this with them because they are critical supporters and you want to keep them aware of your organization's outreach activities. Some will respond with a gift, some will just appreciate being included as part of the inner circle. One caveat, you do want to coordinate this kind of approach with other major gift asks.
It happens to everyone.What can you do? Look for your trouble spots, and develop strategies to address them. Take a look at when your on-going donors most likely to stop giving. For example, suppose you see a pattern that shows significant drop off after three years of giving. What about implementing a recognition program at that point that acknowledges sustained support? Maybe that's a good moment to offer them the opportunity to become a monthly donor. Automatic gifts through electronic funds transfer or credit card transactions create a group of donors with almost zero attrition.
In good times or bad, always be looking for leaks you can plug. Several small improvements in your fundraising program can add up to significantly more net income - and greater opportunities to carry out your important work.