Your Questions About Year-end Fundraising

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Year-end fundraising is upon us, and many of you have been writing with good questions about it. Here are my answers to your three top questions, plus my recommendations:

With the Post Office being politicized, should I skip using direct mail?

To mail or not to mail is the wrong question. In April there was a dip in mail service because of staffing issues at various post offices, most severely in New York, Illinois, Detroit, and the DC area. However, all available data from direct mail houses report no delays in nonprofit fundraising mail since April. Election mail will be delivered as quickly as possible. Election mail only accounts for 2% of one month’s average volume for the USPS, so it does not strain their capacity at all. There are challenges with the delivery of veterans’ medication on some routes where mail is being delivered more slowly, but these instances don’t represent a macro trend of delays across the board. Direct mail is essential to your year-end appeals.

Should I be worried about donor giving?

Move on from your worry because it won’t help you raise the funds you need. You are poised for a banner year-end drive, but only if you leave your worry behind.

Here’s why:

Donors are seeking opportunities to help. They do not want to sit on the sidelines through a pandemic. From a July survey of 650 major donors who gave more than $2,500 to charities in 2019, 70 percent said they expect to give at least the same amount this year as in 2019, while 18 percent said they expect to give more this year than last year.

Nonprofits Investing in Fundraising Are Raising More: Since the start of the pandemic, those nonprofits that have kept up their fundraising and invested more in their fundraising infrastructure have done vastly better than those that have hesitated.

Gifts from First-time Donors Are Up: There was a spike of new donors, particularly from March to June. Contributions from new donors helped many nonprofits surpass their fundraising goals. Many of these new donors are not just one-time donors because the fundraisers wisely invited them to their monthly giving program and subsequently secured repeat gifts.

What’s Different About This Year?

Digital Is King. Before 2020, you might not have thought that traditional galas would need a digital version, or that major gift officers would need to be proficient in Zoom. No analog channel or communication is without a digital component, and digital strategies must be integrated into all fundraising. 

Don’t Waste A Donor’s Time. Old school marketers were trained to understand that every communication has a marginal cost, but that direct cost has reduced so significantly thanks to digital communications that digital folks know that there’s no cost to pushing out another email.  Except that there is.  Research shows that the email reminder—a staple of the volume-focused digital market—has a net negative impact on donations because of unsubscribes and irritation. Donors can spot a time waster online and off, and thus it’s important to assess the hidden email costs in losing donors.

Donor Information is More Important Than Ever. Donor retention is suffering across the board and it’s the result of our under-investing in fundraising infrastructure. We all know that but you must take action to correct that. You must not lose your current donors. Donor data hygiene is crucial to retain donors, because donor data hygiene is what allows us to cultivate real relationships. And this donor data hygiene isn’t just important with major donors, but with all of your donors. In fact, in my recent book, Fundraising 401, I explain why giving at all levels is major. (See Chapter 19.)

Attribution is Murky. When I was new to the fundraising field, the amount a direct mail piece raised was equal to the amount put into the reply envelopes. This is no longer the case, as more and more donors are expressing a preference for giving online regardless of how they’ve been solicited. Your mail piece may have caused someone to give at the donate portal on your website or prompted someone to call a toll-free number. Or that email you sent may have prompted someone to put a check in the envelope. Everything is now connected.

What Does Laurence Recommend?

  1. Use First class or Priority Mail When Mailing to Your Major Donors. This is a best practice and it was so even before the pandemic. Major donors have remained confident during the pandemic. Will you do the same? By using first class or a higher level of delivery service, you are being proactive to make sure these donors receive your appeals, reports and thank you letters.
  2. Direct Mail & Digital Communication Must Be Integrated. Year-end fundraising drives that use direct mail and 1+ digital media elements (such as email) had a 118% increase in response rate when compared to direct mail alone. Integrate your approaches. Email your appeal letter a few days after it hits the mail. Post the appeal letter on your social media with a link to give.
  3. Center Your Appeals On Program and Impact: The July survey of 650 major donors said they would most likely support specific programs. Roughly 75 percent said they would be somewhat, very, or extremely likely to consider donations tied to specific programs. Unrestricted gifts and general operating support were less popular. Only 55 percent said they would be somewhat, very, or extremely likely to support requests for unrestricted funding.

Many other of Laurence’s recommendations for year-end giving can be seen here.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

Laurence will answer your questions about year-end fundraising live on our Sept. 17th, 1 pm webinar. Register here.


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