Did you know that 40% of all giving happens in the month of December? A thoughtful and well crafted year-end appeal can help increase the revenue your organization generates during the height of this year’s giving season.

Giving Tree Associates’ Amy Schiffman, Lizzy Sternberg and Lisa Sheridan recently joined us for a webinar in which they shared best practices in preparing for and maximizing the return on your direct mail campaign.

In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: Welcome to today’s webinar, The Secret to a Successful Direct Mail Campaign. My name is Steven Shattuck, I’m of the VP of marketing here at Bloomerang. As always I’ll be moderating today’s little discussions. Just some housekeeping items before we get started, just want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and that recording will be made available to all of you later this afternoon just as soon as I can get it uploaded to YouTube. I’ll be sending that out to everyone. So if you have to leave early or if you want to maybe share the content with someone else in your office or at your organization you’ll be able to do that just a little later on this afternoon. I’ll also be sending out the slides as well.

As the presenters are speaking please feel free to use the chatbox right there on your webinar screen. I’ll see those questions and so will the ladies from Giving Tree. We’ll be able to answer just as many questions as we can toward the end of the presentation during the formal Q&A session. So don’t be shy at all about sending any questions or comments our way. Hopefully you’re hearing this just fine, if you’re not we tend to have a little bit better quality by phone. So maybe if you’re listening by your computer speakers you might have a little bit better audio if you dial in by phone. So just check my e-mail from earlier this morning for dial-in info if you think you need to do that.

Just in case you’re new to Bloomerang, maybe if this is your first of our Thursday webinars or you don’t know too much about Bloomerang, we are a fundraising database software program. You can learn all about us at bloomerang.co on our website. Maybe you’re in the market for software if you’re interested in that product at all. Just a little short plug there just in case you don’t know what Bloomerang is we do have some awesome software in addition to all these great webinars that we do every Thursday. I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guests. They are Amy Schiffman, Lizzy Sternberg, and Lisa Sheridan over from Giving Tree Associates. Hey there, ladies. How’s it going?

Amy: We’re good. Thank you.

Steven: Sure. Thanks so much for being here, this is fun. I don’t remember the last time we had sort of a panel of experts. I’m really looking forward to the presentation. I had a chance to look through the slides and everyone listening along is in for quite a treat especially if you’re getting ready to do a direct mail campaign. One of the last reviewers who gave us feedback on our webinar said that I talk too much in the beginning so I’m not going to talk any more. I’m going to hand things off to these super-smart ladies. They are going to tell you a little bit more about themselves and give you some awesome tips for direct mail. So, ladies why don’t you take it away.

Amy: Thank you very much. Thank you for having us. I’m going to tell you a little bit about Giving Tree Associates and you’ve produced the topic and I’m going to hand it over to my colleagues Lizzy and Lisa. Giving Tree is a little over six and a half years old. We a firm based in Chicago. We are a team of eight. Really we do all things fundraising and leadership development. We manage annual campaigns, capital campaigns, endowment campaigns. We have a fairly strong focus on major gift development and strategic campaign planning.

We also do a lot of direct main. Direct mail tends to be one of the key tools that we use to communicate with a specific segment of our donor base or a prospect base. The team here has a lot of experience helping clients move their direct mail programs to the next level. I would love to get a sense of who on this call has some direct mail experience. So if you wouldn’t mind saying “some,” “none,” “lack” in the chat box we can get a quick sense of… here we go. So a little of each. The beginners, finishing our fist year, lack. So hopefully we are going to be able to offer something to everyone. I think the overwhelming statistic here is that most of us have had some experience.

How many joined this webinar because you have a direct mail project coming up in the near future? Just give me a yes or a no or a maybe. Okay, so a lot of yes which is great. We always feel when the holidays are rolling around December is a really popular time, even November, to get a direct mail piece out. We love that this is sort of timed well for your next big project. Some of us are sending thousands of pieces each year, some of us are sending hundreds, some of us are just beginning. But if you take the one chance, or maybe you send out two to three pieces a year, you really have to speak to a specific segment of your donor population to share its impact and really craft a personalized message, we better take the time to do it right. So we have nine tips for you that every development professional should keep handy during their prep. Time for a direct mail appeal. I’m going to turn it over to Lizzy who is going to get us started with tip one.

Lizzy: Well, thanks for joining us everyone. Tip number one is creating a timeline. This is very basic but before you start working on your direct mail campaign it is really important that you put down on paper everything you need to do to make it successful. You might as where to begin, how do you even begin creating a timeline? You’re going to do that by working backward. What is a realistic drop date for your direct mail campaign? What is the date that you want it to hit your donor’s doorstep? There’s a lot of you that are working on your appeal right now. You might want to consider things like Thanksgiving, what holidays are coming up, things going on in your community. Do you want the direct mail to be dropped before Thanksgiving or do you want it to be dropped after? You probably don’t want to send it out the week of Thanksgiving so it gets lost in a pile of mail in the midst of holiday preparation. Make sure you’re thinking about all the different things that are coming up before you choose a drop date then work backwards from there.

I’m going to talk a little about prepping for you timeline. What you want to do is put everything down on paper, every detail that you need to do to get this direct mail piece out down to stuffing and stamping your envelopes if you’re doing that yourself and a target deadline for getting those things done. If you stray from it, it is not a big deal. What the timeline will help you do is keep on track and make sure you’re not losing track of any of the important things that need to get done in order for it get out. Some of those things might be preparing the list of people who will receive the mailing. Everyone has segments of lists that you’re sending this direct mail to. You have to pull it out of your database and you have to write information on those lists for those people.

Something else you want to think about is getting quotes from your printer or your mail house that you’re using. Also, don’t underestimate the time it actually takes to create the letter itself and the messaging. Your draft one probably will go through five or six revisions. You’ll want to send it to all the staff in your department and possibly even in different departments depending on what kind of message you’re sending out to your group. Make sure give the appropriate staff enough time to review that.

Then you’ll need to think of a collateral you need like a punch card and put that together. If you are using a print house, that’s great, but if you’re not and you’re doing it in-house you’ll want to think about how much time you’ll need to make that happen. You will probably need to build in extra time for printer errors and manual coordination as well. Think about how big your staff is and if they have time to help you stuff and stamp envelopes. If you don’t have a big enough staff or you don’t have enough stuff in-house maybe you want to schedule a couple days to have volunteers come in and help you do that. That’s really important to think about.

Another important piece of this too is including time for your board and staff to include hand-written personal notes for appropriate constituents. Maybe not every letter you send out will have one but most should. I’ll speak more about the importance of personal notes and what you’ll need to do with that but what I want to talk about here specifically is how to build that into a timeline. There’s two ways that you can go about coordinating these efforts. The first is, it’s simple and won’t take as much time. You can invite your board and your staff to come in and sit in your conference room, order dinner, and divvy up all the personal notes that need to be written so that your board and staff can get those done right away and you can send them out as soon as your right after all the personal notes are done.

Option two is a bit more strategic. What you’ll need to do is think about all the personal notes that need to be written and who the person is that’s going to be writing them. Before you send anything to the printer you’ll want to coordinate those lists so the person that is writing the note can receive a stack of their letters. What I mean by that is the letter itself is ready to go out and it’s stuffed, it’s stamped, it’s ready for the person, all they need to do is write down on the note card that you’re going to put in there and slip it in. In order to do that you’ll need to coordinate beforehand. You’ll also want to give anyone who is writing those notes more time than just a night or two. We’re all busy and prioritizing something like that might be hard. You might want to give somebody a week or so in order to do that. That just requires filling that into your timeline.

The next thing I want to show you very quickly is how to structure your timeline. If you’re looking at the slide you’ll notice that it’s going to be simple, it’s just an easy Excel document. You’ll have four basic things that you want to track. What is the target date for completion? When do you need to get something done in order for the direct mail piece to be on time? What’s the task that you’re talking about? Is it creating a draft? Is it pulling a list from your database? Who’s responsible for doing that? Throughout the process you’ll track the status. One great way to do this would be through a Google doc. So if multiple people on your development team are managing this project then everyone can see where everyone is with their task and their timeline.

I’m going to move onto tip number two which is messaging and content. This is the most important aspect of your direct mail appeal. When you go into this you probably want to think about story that you’re going to tell and the audience you have. By that I mean that you might want to think about doing targeted messaging. You don’t want to send one letter to everyone in your database. You’ll probably want to look at your population and segment that out. I’ll talk about that a little more in a minute.

First I’m going to go to personalizing. We cannot stress this enough; making your letter is personal is extremely important. Don’t say “greetings” or “dear friends,” let your donors know that you know who they are. One way to do this is through including personal notes, like I’ve mentioned before, on as many letters as possible. Try to include all current and frequent donors in this list, but what’s really important is the quality of the note and who it’s written by. So making sure the right relationship owner is writing that note. If you’re sending thousands of letters each year it might not be possible for every letter to have a note. Think about the most important constituents in your community; your donors, your key volunteers, people helping you build relationships. Be aggressive about how many notes you want to get written but also realistic.

Something that can help you write more notes on your letter is having your board and staff help you with this process. I’m going to give you a few tips that help you think about that. Asking your board president to write notes for everyone on your board of directors and your development committees, that person has the relationship will all those people. They can take that 30 or 40 notes on. You might also be able to ask your board and development committee to write notes for anyone whose name they submitted for the mailing. Also more about that is a few slides under the preparation and expansion. Ask all your staff members whether they are development related or not to pitch in and write notes. Maybe you say I’m going to give everyone a week and I’m going to give them 50 notes and I’m going to say write ten a day and pop those in the mail. That goes back to building your timeline. It is important that everyone plays a part in this.

The reason why is because every single one of my clients has seen an increase in their revenue from direct mail because of personal notes. When we go back to look at the data and say here are all the donors for our direct mail appeal this year almost always it’s 90% or higher of those donors are personal note writers. Even if they went online and flipped through your email that you sent, they still received that letter and that personal touch from you. They might not have filled out the pledge card because that wasn’t the way they wanted to make their donation, but they went online and did it later. Definitely think about including personal notes in your direct mail pieces if you haven’t done that before.

Another piece of information that is important is targeted messaging which I mentioned in my introduction. You definitely don’t want to be sending one letter to every person in your database because you have different populations that you’re speaking to. I’m going to use an example to illustrate this. If you’re talking about a university sending out direct mail, they have alumni, they have parents, they have grandparents, they have teachers, and general donors. The message is going to be different to all those different groups. For example, if you’re sending to an alumni you might want a nostalgic message about being on campus and how much their time meant. For parents of students you might want to send a picture of the student on campus enjoying themselves and a note about how their dollars are impacting educational programs. Really think about who your populations are and how you segment to them. I want to stress here not to underestimate targeted messaging. It might be easy to send one letter out to everyone but research shows it’s proven that segmented mailing is more successful and will yield better results for you.

Now that you know who your populations are, the important part of messaging is to tell a story and show your constituents how your organization impacts the community. Your goal is to get the reader past the first or second line of the direct mail piece. Here’s an example of a strong opening line, this is what I like to do, I like to write from the perspective of somebody of, and you can go out into your community and find this person, who is impacted by your organization and tell their story. “Dear Samantha, on October 2, 2014, our son Ben was 151 days old and 151 was the number of days he had spent in the NICU at Children’s Hospital.” This line doesn’t tell you much about the organization but what it does do is it pulls at your heart strings. It makes you want to more about that family. Fundraising is all about storytelling and that is how people will feel connected to your organization and mission and understand the impact that you’re having on the community. Make sure that that opening line is very strong.

Once you’ve grabbed your reader you’ll want to show the impact with the hard facts, the statistics that you have. Statics that you’re showing should show the relevance and importance of your organization. Here are some stats that I’ve made up to prove this point; 52% of families with babies in the NICU are on Medicaid. 100% of them are using our services. This tells me two things about this made up program; that it’s needed and that it’s effective in the population. The people are in need of this program and the people that are in need of it are using it. Once you’ve done that show the donor how their dollar can be translated to make the services happen. You could do that by saying $300, or whatever the dollar amount, supports one family in the NICU of Children’s Hospital for one month. This tells your donor exactly what they need to do to help your organization succeed.

Now once you’ve told your story and proven the value of your organization, you need to specifically state what you what you want from them and this will your call-to-action. Use words like “please join us in making a contribution today” in the letter so they know exactly what you want them to do. On the pledge card make sure you ask for a specific amount and list their giving history.

This brings me to our next tip, tip number three: list preparation and expansion. This is arguably one of the most critical parts of the direct mail process. You want to make sure the right people are getting the right letters. In order to do that, you’ll think about the targeted messaging conversation that we just had. Targeted messaging is proven to be better, how do you do that? You do it by segmenting your list and finding what populations in your data exist. So be sure whoever manages your database has updated and flagged constituent information recently. To illustrate this I’ll go back to the university example that I used before. Every year at a university a group of students become alumni. When that happens you need to mark in your database as such and that way you can target them. Same with current parents. When new students come to your university every year a whole new batch of parents come along with that. Are they entered into your database and are you targeting them?

It is very important to make sure your information is up to date and that you’re list is segmented that way. If you don’t track this information currently, make sure you sit down and talk with your team about how you can do it. It might not be ready for this direct mail piece but it could be ready for future direct mail pieces. I really urge you to think about how you’re tracking your data and how you’re using that effectively.

There are three ways that this tip, preparation and expansion, is going to increase the return on your direct mail piece each year. The first is through adding constituents to your database. The more people in your database, the more donations you’re probably going to get. Make sure your board of directors and your development team members are submitting names and addressed to your database each year.

The second part of how you’re going to increase your return is through using your data effectively. Ask for increased gifts from every donor that you’re sending a letter to. Make sure you look at their giving history as well. No one is going to remember what they paid to your organization last year when you sent out your direct mail piece. You can remind them by making sure the pledge card includes a line about their last gift and asking for an increased one. With this tactic you will almost never get a decreased gift. If you do not list their giving history, they are not going to remember and there is a 50/50 chance that will give more or less than they did the year before. I will show you an example of what this looks like in the next tip, so in a few slides.

The third way you’re going to increase your return is through personal notes, which I mentioned before. We talked about how all my clients have increased their returns from these personal notes when they’ve enlisted this tactic. Make sure you take that personal edge and take that time to add a hand-written note along to all of your letters.

The last point I’ll make about list preparation and expansion is probably the most important one and arguably one of the most important points throughout this webinar. It is ensuring your major donors and prospects are not on this list. Direct mail is for your lower-level givers. It is a transactional relationship that you have with them. Your major donors need more attention and not to be solicited this way. You’ll need to build relationships with them and create personal stewardship plans. You’re probably asking “Well how do I know where to cut that off? What dollar amount?” That’s going to look different for every organization, but in general you’ll want to take your top 10 to 20% of donors off of this list. Instead of sending them a direct mail piece, send them a holiday card and write a meaningful note on there. Maybe a little bit longer than what you’re doing for the direct mail pieces. Then follow-up in a month or two, take them out to lunch, learn what interests them about the organization and drives them to be involved. They’ll appreciate that personal touch and probably become more invested in your organization.

Now I’m going to head over to tip number four, my last tip before I hand it over to Lisa, which is design and layout. You’ll want to think about something that will catch your reader’s eye but is also very easy to read and also has your organization’s branding. This will also be a bit of cost to produce it so we will want to consider those factors here as well. The first part of this I’m going to talk about is updating your letterhead. Make sure that your current list of board members and staff are listed on your letterhead and you’re not using an old version. Like I mentioned before, you should probably have your board members write personal notes. If you invited a new board member on this year and they’re not listed on the letterhead then you ask them to write personal notes on a letter they’re not listed on, it could feel strange to them. Just make sure you’re always updating that. If you’ve moved recently or you’ve done a re-brand you don’t want to be using old letterhead either. Maybe use that old letterhead for some other marketing material that you’re sending out or something else, but this direct mail piece is one of the one touches, depends on how many you send out a year, that you have with your donors at this level so you want to make sure everything is up-to-date.

As we talked about countless times, you’ll want to customize your pledge cards. Here I’m going to jump into showing you an example of what that looks like. If you look up in the left-hand corner you’ll notice “Phil and Claire Dunphy.” This is a personalized pledge card that lists their contact information. Also underneath that it says “Thank you for supporting the 2014 campaign with a gift of $500, please consider a gift of $550.” This explicitly says that they gave to your campaign last year and that you’re asking them to this year. Some people didn’t get to read the whole letter because, let’s be honest, a lot of people know they are going to donate to your organization, they are waiting for this letter. They throw the letter aside and they get the letter but they still know that you know who they are and this reminds them of what their gift was and what you want them to do. If you’re not sending this to someone who has made a gift recently, maybe you’ve added some new people to your database who have never given, you can remove that line on the pledge card and you can leave it blank.

The last thing about design and layout that I want to discuss is cost. Many of our clients worry about producing a pledge card and how much it’s going to cost to design it and the letterhead and everything else that goes in with the direct mail piece; making sure the collateral looks nice. This pledge card that we created was put together in Word. It’s not the fanciest designed but it’s clean, it’s professional, it’s clear. If you send it to a printer and tell them what your budget is, they will pick a stock that makes sense for you. Now that we’re on the topic of cost and stock and paper, this segues perfectly into tip number five which is going to be postage. I’m going to hand this over to Lisa and she will discuss this more.

Lisa: Great. Thank you so much Lizzy. As we well know there is two ways to send direct mail. We can send a snail mail appeal or an electronic appeal. Some of you are going to do both. For those of you who are going to send a snail mail appeal, we’re going to spend a minute talking about postage and then we’ll move on and talk about an e-campaign. When we send a snail mail appeal, for many of us a good portion of our budget for that appeal goes toward postage. We want to make sure we understand the postage options available so we can maximize our budget. There are three types of postage we will want to consider: there’s non-profit, first-class, and standard.

Let’s say that we’re sending our direct mail piece in a number 10 envelope, which is standard and the whole thing weighs under an ounce, which is also pretty standard. We can send it a few ways. So if we send it first class, to qualify we can send a minimum of 500 pieces, our mailing will be delivered within 2 to 4 days, and go based on 1,000 pieces that are in this number 10 envelope that are under an ounce, we are looking at paying about $400 for that mailing. If we want to go with standard, to qualify we have to send a minimum of 200 pieces, our mailing will be delivered within 7 to 10 days, based on that 1,000 in the number 10 envelope that weigh under an ounce, we’re looking at about

[$180]. Things to consider with standard mail is that it has to be sent through a mail house which means you’re going to pay a fee to the mail house to help you send that. Sometimes, it is better to mail the 200 pieces by yourself with first-class postage. We encourage you to price that out and see which way you’re better off before deciding.

The third way to send is with the non-profit discount. You have to mail a minimum of 200 pieces, you have to have a non-profit authorization number from the post office to do this. This is something you will have to apply for several months in advance of your mailing. It is one thing you may want to think about putting into place well in advanced as well. A non-profit postage permit can make the mailing process less expensive and more efficient if you’re sending a large mailing, but it is not right for every organization. So once again, we would encourage you to look into that to see if it is right for your organization. One other thing to know about that is there are rules and regulations. There’s specifications about how you can put the addresses, what mail houses you can send from, and all of those. If you are working with a mail house, I would encourage you to ask them about this. They’ll most likely be able to help you with the process.

Here we are looking at a 7 to 10 delivery period from the time you send based on 1,000 pieces in the number 10 envelope that weigh under an ounce, it’ll cost us about $160. You can see there is a significant price difference between the three. We’ve included a link here, so if you want to learn more about applying for non-profit postage authorization or you want to find a location you can do so by clicking that link.

I have a couple of other things to consider in terms of postage. You want to weigh a sample of your mailing before printing and before purchasing the postage so you can know how much each piece will cost. I say that you want to weigh before printing as well because sometimes there’s a very small change you can make either to your paper stock or your printing method and that will actually keep you within the standard weight, which will then have a big effect on the cost of postage. It’s important to use your printer and your mail house as partners in this process. After all, we run non-profit, we are not printers, we don’t work for the post office and they really are the experts in this area. On that note, that takes us to tip number six which is printing and mail house.

Printer or mail house, it is really important to do your homework. I was, when I first started in this industry, very surprised by how much the costs differ from printer to printer and mail house to mail house. We tell our clients and suggest to other people as well to quote out your direct mail piece with two to three vendors so you have a point of comparison. This will allow you to make an educated decision on who to use. You also want to decide whether you’re going to assemble your mail in-house or you want to use a mail house. Lizzy touched on that a little bit earlier. You want to think about your resources in terms of making this decision. Do you have the staff or the volunteers to put together the mail in-house? Can you this in a timely fashion? How do you want your staff using their time? These are questions you want to think through to determine if that is right for you or not.

The nice thing about mail houses is that they will print your addresses on the envelope, they’ll stuff your mailing, they’ll sort everything, and they’ll send everything. If they’re actually the ones sending out, they’ll make sure that the mailing is up to standard for USPS and that it will mail smoothly and efficiently. They take out a lot of glitches in the system. If you are thinking about a mail house you will want to think about personal notes in this decision as well. If you go with a mail house and you need the ability to write personal notes, you may want to consider splitting your list into two lists. You have the first list that doesn’t need notes, they can go to the mail house and they can address it, stuff it, and stamp it, and send it straight out. Then you have the second list of people that do need personal notes, so you send that to the mail house and they can still address them and they can still collate the whole mailing and stamp them but they just won’t seal them. They’ll send them back to you, and all you then have to do is write your note and put it in, or write your note on the letter, and seal it and send it right out. That can make it a little bit easier as well.

We’re going to move on to tip number seven. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about snail mail piece of the direct mail campaign and I’d like us to spend a little bit of time talking about e-campaign. Some of you may choose to do only an e-campaign, which is fine. If you are sending a snail mail piece, we do recommend also creating an e-campaign through a company then. There’s really two main reasons for this recommendation. The first is you may have people in your database whom you have an e-mail address for but whom you may not have a mailing address for. So if you send a direct mail piece, they will not receive anything and they won’t be able to make a gift. By sending an e-mail they will then be able to make a gift. For those who send out a snail-mail letter, an e-campaign is a nice reminder for them to go and support the organization.

I always like to learn from organizations, you can see I’ve included an example of a Mother’s Day appeal from Mercy Corps and highlight key facts that we’re going to talk about. E-campaigns should be short and sweet. You can see here you don’t have to scroll up and down, you don’t have to scroll left and right, everything they want you to see is all within one window on your screen. The message should be clear and succinct. You want to make it really obvious what you’re asking for and easy for people to know where to click to support your effort. If you see this big yellow button on the bottom, it’s large, easy to see, in a nice bold color so it stands out. So it’s obvious if I want to make a gift where I should click and what I should do to do that.

I would also always, always, always suggest that you create your appeal in your e-mail marketing platform. Often the organization will take an image of an invitation they created or an image of something else and they’ll paste that jpeg directly into their e-mail marketing platform and hit send. I strongly urge you to not do that. Not to put one image directly into your e-mail marketing platform and hit send. E-mail marketing platforms are designed to raise huge red flags when this happens and send those e-mails to spam. So the last thing we want to do is, we don’t want to spend a lot of time creating this beautiful e-campaign and then have it end up in someone’s spam folder so they don’t see it. So that’s why there’s slightly different content and formatting than a direct mail piece that we send out for a couple of reasons. We’re sending to the same people who also got the direct mail piece. We don’t necessarily want them to see the exact same thing twice.

The e-blast should also be short and sweet and formatted for e-mail. This also means choosing a format that is mobile-friendly. I’m totally guilty of this and I would guess many of you are too, we all read our e-mails on our phone now so we want this to e-mail that people can easily read on their phone. Our call-to-action is also going to be different in our e-campaign because we can link people directly to the donation page. As we just saw in the example, we want to make the call-to-action obvious, direct, and easy to see. You’re also going to link to a donation page. When I say that I really want you to link directly to the donate page not to the organization’s home page. You don’t want people to have to click through and find where to give. You want to make it as quick and easy on them as possible to go to the site and make that gift.

Always test your donations portal. I’m going to share a quick personal story here. Last year I got a really powerful e-mail form an organization and one that motivated me to make the gift. I went to their website to actually make the gift and I tried to enter the gift price and it wasn’t working and my phone rang and I walked away and I never went back. I never actually made the gift to that organization even though I had wanted to. My guess is that no one there actually checked their portal to know that it wasn’t working. I wish they would have because they would have had a new donor. I say that just to show that this happens and you don’t want to be in that position.

The next thing to consider is the use of images. Images are powerful but make sure you don’t use more than one image in your e-blast as again it will increase the likelihood that it will end up in someone’s spam folder. The next piece is testing your e-blast. You always want to send yourself a test of the e-blast. E-blast look different in e-mail marketing platforms as they do in your inbox or on your phone. It’s helpful to view the e-blast in the way that your constituents will be viewing it and make sure you’re happy with how it looks. Also, click through to make sure all of your links are linked to the appropriate places and that they work.

The last is our plan for our leadership to share it with the network. We talked about the importance of personal notes in our direct mail letters, the same is true in our e-campaign. A personal outreach will help maximize the return on our campaign. We will want to encourage our board members and our leadership to forward the e-blast to their contacts and to include a personal note when doing so. Even if their contacts are on the list and received e-blast, it is still helpful for the leadership to forward it because people are always more likely to open an e-mail from a friend than they are from an organization. It’s helpful to remember here that people give to people and friends give to friends. We really want to make this personal to people so they want to give and support all the great work that you and your organization are doing.

Prepare your team and resources. Chances are by this time you’ve spent a lot of time working on the direct mail piece, preparing the list, working with the printer, mail house, and all those details. One of the last and most important steps is to make sure that our team knows about the direct mail piece, is prepared for it, and understand what they’ll need to do once that piece hits. We want to prepare our staff for calls, e-mails, questions that they may get. We want to make sure they know what is being sent out and that they are prepared to answer any questions that come in. We also want to prepare our database. Make sure that your database manager is ready to enter the incoming donations and inputting them the second they come in. Make sure you have your database set up appropriately. You’ll want to have a campaign appeal unit, you’ll want to have all of your codes set up in your database, and you’ll want to know your database manager knows where and how to appropriately post these gifts.

We will also want to think about reporting out in our campaign. We recommend that you build an easy to run report that you can use for updates to your leadership. You can do this before your campaign goes live and have it ready. Once the gifts start coming in all you have to do is run that report. We’ll want to alert people about a few different things. We’ll want to alert our board members if one of their contacts makes a gift. This way they can sign a personal thank you. Amy in a couple minutes will talk more about personal thank-yous. We’ll also want to send regular updates to our staff board, our development committee, our board of directors so they all know where we stand in the campaign and where also stand toward our goals of this campaign. Having a pre-built report will make it very easy for us to send out all of these updates. I’m going to turn it over to Amy now for our final tip, tip number nine, on acknowledgements and giving thanks.

Amy: Thanks everybody. I think the key thing in thinking about how we say thank you, when we say thank you is just coming up with a plan. Our tendency, the tendency that we have seen in clients we have worked with is this tends to be an afterthought. What we’re suggesting here is decide before the mailing ever goes out what’s going to happen once it comes back in. Once the dollars, we hope, start rolling back in. Make sure your acknowledgements are current and ready to go. In other words, don’t count on the fact that you can just take last year’s letter and just quickly change the date on it and it’s going to be ready to go. Make sure, and we hope there are new things to say each year in the thank you note. Like Lizzy mentioned, really focus on the gift impact and let donors know what their gift to you allows the organization to achieve.

If it was your board member that brought that donor in, if it came from a board member contact list, be sure you let the board member know that the donation came in so that a phone call can be made by the board member or the board to write a personal note. Very important. I’ve seen lots of angry board members when someone says a month later “Oh, I made a gift because I got that letter with your name on it” and the board member has not been contacted. Make sure when you’re entering that list into your database in the first place that you’ve got the board member coded as the solicitor on the gift even before anything comes in.

Most importantly, if a large contribution or an increased gift comes in, something noticeable. Make sure, if someone goes from $25 to $500 or to $1000, whatever it is, something that looks out of the ordinary in a positive way, make sure your director of development or your executive director knows about it and makes a personal phone call. We’ll talk more about this on the next slide. When a person goes up that dramatically, you’re looking for trend, someone who has been making a $500 gift for 10 years may be ready to moved off the direct mail list and on to your face-to-face major gift list. In other words, we’re talking about moves management. Even at this level, we want to be paying a lot of attention to what’s happening to this list and how we can grow these relationships and personalize the act.

Acknowledgement and giving thanks. Who to include in your thank you process. We love it when organizations include board members and development committee members in the thank you process. Of course they’re going to get a thank you, a letter from the organization that might have a hand-written signature on it, it might have a scanned in e-mail signature on it. The more personal you get about thanking, the more the donor is going to notice that you have acknowledged them. If you can get your board of development committee, you can get your volunteers involved in thanking. It’s a great way to not only steward the donor relationship but also get lay leadership involved in the solicitation process.

In other words, many of the lay leadership we have worked with are afraid to do the ask, for some reason are uncomfortable doing the ask. So when you ask them to thank, they’re totally on board, they are ready to do it. It is sort of almost I feel like I’m tricking them into having a conversation about a gift without them even knowing it. People are really shocked when they get a thank you phone call or a personal note from a board member of the organization they have given to. They know that they have been noticed.

In terms of timing, gift acknowledgements should really go out within 72 hours of receiving the gift, if not sooner. I’ve heard many donors complain about the fact that often they wait weeks, sometimes even months to get a thank you note. When we look into what the problem is there, it tends to go back to the lack of preplanning on the part of the organization. In other words, it was a big gift and we needed the executive director to sign the letter and the executive director was out for two weeks so the letter has just been sitting on their desk. That is a great way to make people feel unappreciated. So get your ducks in a row before the letters go out. Even if you don’t have board members or an executive director to make that personal phone call, that call of thanks. By the way, you’re only doing a personal phone call probably to a very small segment of your direct mail donor base. You’re not asking your executive director or even director of development to call every single person. That kind of action is really saved for those who have done something noticeable, out of the ordinary, really increased their gift, maybe made a nice first-time gift.

Make sure that you can add a personal touch to the thank you note. Much like we were asking you to add a note to write up in the upper right hand corner of the direct mail appeal, the letter itself, just to personalize it. On that letter, this is one of your questions by the way, what might you say? You might just say: Thanks Amy for the gift that you made last year, we really appreciate it. We hope to receive a gift again this year. We all respond more positively when someone is speaking directly to us and when we know that our absence or participation in the campaign is going to be noticed.

The same is true on the thank you note. If you can decide who is going to write those thank you notes on those thank you letter itself or you can attach a separate note card with a paper clip with a thank you note on it. It just goes above and beyond that letter that just looks like it’s been processed in the office. Our theme here is that the more personal, the more targeted, the better results we have, the more likely this person is going to give again.

Again, we really loved including lay people in the process. We love asking them to write notes, to make personal phone calls. If this could really be a group effort, you’re going to see the results of that action. I think now we are going to open it up to questions. I know we’re getting some on the chat list. We’re going to answer a couple of them.

I answered what’s the personal notes say. The notes that we’re recommending, a personal note on the letter itself. It says their name, first and foremost, and encourages them to participate. Anything personal, “I hope your daughter had a great third birthday.” Whatever it is you know about them, you want them to feel like we’re counting on them for the campaign. The personal note, again, will go on that thank you note that will say “thank you so much for participating, Amy, your gift really means a lot to us.” Say something so it’s not just that note.

Is it okay if thank-yous for checks take longer than online gifts? No. I think no. The point here is that the thank-yous need to go out quickly. So you have to decide what that means at your office. Is a three day turnaround possible? In most of the office I’ve worked in we’ve had a 48 hour turnaround. That was my expectation; I seem to get those. We had a person dedicated to gift processing, getting letters out, and then letters at a certain level and up came to my desk. Generally, I was signing letters to donors at $500 and up and I brought a school of letters for $1000 and up donors and I had school to sign. You have to decide what that plan is within your office but some may go out without a personal note, but if you can do it it’s a great touch.

Next question is about letter length.

Lizzy: For letter length, you want to make sure your direct mail piece to a page. Short and sweet is great but you also have content that you need to deliver like your mission, you have that somewhere in there. You’re also telling a compelling story. So, try and keep it to a page. Actually, definitely keep it to a page. If there’s other information that you want to communicate to your community, maybe launch a new program, include a brochure in the direct mail piece that won’t get lost in your letter. Make sure that you are, we tend to ramble on, make sure that you are short and succinct and only including the information in that letter that needs to be said in order to deliver your message.

Amy: Okay, we have a question…

Lisa: So the question was “We’re a virtual organization, how do we, right now we don’t have a place to go to do that?” This is a great question and I think this is true for non-virtual organizations also. Not everyone can make a meeting or can come for one night. We will take the letters for a board member and put all of them into a manila envelope and we’ll create a one page sheet that says “note writing.” We’ll put some sample text on there for notes that people can include. We’ll send that out, we’ll mail it to each board member so they’re getting this packet with exactly what we want from them. Please put some personal notes on letters, here’s some sample text that you can use in your notes, and please mail them out by X day. They have all the letters in there and blank note cards and everything is already stuffed and stamped for them so all they have to do is write the note, put it in, and seal it.

Amy: I would also say that you can ask board members to e-mail these donors and say thank you, if you have an e-mail address and they can also call. So if you don’t have the ability to have everyone sitting down and writing notes, the next best thing or maybe just as good is for you to send the board member e-mail addresses and to ask them to send out personalized thank-yous via e-mail or make phone calls. The next question Lizzy is going to answer.

Lizzy: Somebody asked how to customize your increased gift amount. They asked if there is a field for that in your database, whether it’s Bloomerang or something else. There’s not a field you can enter in your database for that but what you would do is when you export your list, you have an Excel spreadsheet that lists all your donors, what their last gift was, their address, add a column to that and increase the gift by 10 or 20%, whatever your organization is comfortable asking for. Do it in increments, you’re not going to make that formula so that someone giving $500 is asked for $510.33. So maybe everyone that’s given $450 to 500, you’re asking for them to give $550 or whatever that number is. Make those brackets. Typically, before I even look at the donor spreadsheet for the direct mail piece, I come up with the brackets that I’m using. Everyone from $1 to 25 I’m asking for $30. Everyone from $25 to 50, I’m asking for $75 or whatever that might look like depending on what your organization is comfortable with.

Lisa: There was a question about when to send your direct mail appeal in accordance with Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday this year is on Tuesday, December 2nd for anyone who is looking into that. If you are not currently looking into it, I would encourage you to go to givingtuesday.org, a great website that has all the information and accompanying materials that you need to create a Giving Tuesday campaign. So when to send out your piece in accordance, you want to mail your piece enough in advance of Giving Tuesday that people have already gotten your direct mail piece and that you build around that a parallel campaign or a campaign that works in accordance with that for e-mail and social marketing. For a couple of my clients right now we are already, in any of their communications that are going out, already talking about Giving Tuesday to start building awareness within people that we are participating in Giving Tuesday and it’s something that they should keep on their radar. I think if you put something in your letter about it and they get those letters before Thanksgiving, middle of November, and than you continue to follow up with it that will help maximize your efforts there.

Lizzy: We have another question about when to send out your e-mail campaign along with your snail mail. Typically you want to give someone enough time to have received their mail, open it, and process it. If you’re expecting your snail mail to drop, let’s say today on the 30th, you’ll probably want to give everybody at least a week in order to receive it, open it, and maybe someone has been out of town. They’ve opened their mail and when they get that e-mail blast from you, they’ve already seen the personal note. They’ve read your letter, and this is an easy way for them to go to your website and make the donation and make that action happen.

You’ll probably, if you send out your direct mail piece sometime in November, you’ll probably send more than one e-mail out to your community asking for gifts. Especially, if you have e-mailed before. You might want to think about spreading them out every two weeks. You could, leading up to the end of December a lot of people make gifts before the New Year, you’ll probably want to send one a week or maybe send one twice in one week but don’t invade your community either. Think about how many communications you are sending out. If you’re a very e-mail heavy organization be very strategic about sending out these e-mail asks, about when you’re sending them out, and how many you’re sending out. If you don’t communicate very often via e-mail with your community, it’s okay to send a few more because they’re not getting any other e-mails from you outside of that.

Amy: We had question about: “We have a new fund development manager. Should we send the letters out from her or me as the director or from both?” I would say maybe neither. What we’re suggesting is that if you are segmenting the letters. So if that’s true, if you’re sending more than one version of the letter. For instance, if you’re an organization that has alumni or you’re sending to parents or grandparents, I love it when we speak peer-to-peer. The signer of that letter is that person’s peer. In other words, a parent would sign the parent letter, or a grandparent might sign the grandparent letter. If it’s a letter to community members, you might have your board chair sign it. I love volunteers speaking to other volunteers and talking within the letter about “I made my gift today and I’m asking you to join me.” It’s harder for professionals to speak in that voice. Not that we don’t give, I think most of us do give to organizations but I think the letter becomes more powerful when people feel like the person speaking to them understands their situation and is a member of their peer group. That’s a suggestion. If that doesn’t work, again, a board chair might sign and it’s not terrible to have an executive director or director of development sign the letter.

Lisa: Here’s another. So there’s been a bunch of questions about video and whether we should include video or not. I think that a well made video can be very powerful and effective. If you have a short video piece that has been done and that your organization is using or that you can create that can be very powerful. If you don’t have something and you’re thinking of throwing something together, I would say it’s kind of how well you can do it. If you can do it well, it can be great. If you’re throwing it together to throw something together to have a video, there’s probably better ways to spend your time and ways that will yield a higher rate of return.

Amy: “All of our appeal letters and thank you letters are all signed by the president and CEO. Is that bad?” It’s great, it’s fantastic, but that statement would make me wonder if that was the best use of his or her time. In other words, I’m generally saving the signing, especially if it is a hand-written signature with a personal note by the E.D., for a special segment of the donor base. If that person really has the time to do it, fantastic, but if they’re really juggling priorities it might not be the best use of their time. That’s something that you’ve got to weigh.

“Is it bad to use an electronic signature if it’s from the E.D.?” I really don’t like electronic signatures unless you’re going to add a personal note. Again, you have to think about the message you’re sending if the person gets an electronic signature. It’s obvious that no personal attention has been put into the letter. Sometimes when we’re talking about thousands of pieces, we have no choice. Again, we’re asking you to segment that not every, just like not all donors don’t get the same treatment in terms of stewardship, the same is true in a direct mail campaign. What portion of your list really needs to get that scanned e-mail signature? What portion of the list can we commit to doing a bit more personal?

Also there was a question about if you only have a two-person team and 48 hour turnaround time on a thank you note is not realistic. How do we deal with that? I have worked with smaller non-profits that say “We use Friday mornings to get our thank-yous out.” I think that’s okay. I think as long as you have a plan and it’s not a “whenever we get to it” type situation, I think that’s okay. I think that’s about the longest though that we want you to go is that weekly sending out. If that’s what works for your team because you’re lean and mean then go for it but really keep it on schedule.

So we’re 12:59 Central time. Do we have one last question? Do we need to wrap up, Steven?

Steven: Yeah, I think so. I don’t want to keep anyone from their lunch if they haven’t eaten yet. I really appreciate everyone sending in questions and making comments and keeping the discussion going. That’s always really cool to me when I see that. Thanks so much, thanks for being a good sport. Just in the last minute I want to give Amy and Lizzy and Lisa just a little bit of time to tell folks where they can find out more about them, where they can check out Giving Tree Associates online. So ladies, why don’t you go ahead and do that.

Amy: Fantastic. What we want to say, there’s so many great questions on here and we did not get to answer all of them especially if they seem somewhat specific to the organization. You have our e-mail addresses on here and I would encourage you specifically to e-mail Lizzy and Lisa because they are really the direct mail gurus of the firm and they would not mind at all you asking for advice. That’s what we’re here for. We don’t charge for advice, it’s free. So if you have questions, just e-mail us. It’s all our first names @givingtreeassociates. Check out our website at www.givingtreeassociates.com and check out our blog, we’ve written a couple times and we’ve included a link on our website to some of this information that we have for you. We would love for you to be in touch.

Steven: Please do that. I will be sending out the slides and the recording in just a couple hours here so you’ll be able to click through some of those blog posts they’ve mentioned in their slides and just review all the information they’ve shared. So thanks again, ladies. It was fun to have you. Just so everyone knows we do do these webinars every Thursday. They’re totally free, they’re totally educational. We have a really cool one coming up one week from today. Kirsten Bullock is going to join us and she is going to join us and talk about engaging your board of directors in fundraising which is always important especially as we approach the year end. Check that out if that topic interests you. We have a lot of other webinars scheduled through the end of the year. I’m actually adding some for 2015 already too. Check those out, you might find something interesting. We’ve got a lot of other educational content on our website as well. Check us out, check out Giving Tree Associates. Good luck on the year end direct mail. Thanks everyone for joining us. Thank you again Amy, Lizzy, and Lisa. It was a lot of fun, thanks for being here.

Amy: Thanks for having us.

Steven: All right we will talk to you next week hopefully. If not, we’ll see you soon. So have a great rest of your day and have a good weekend. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.