You’ve Got Mail

The weather here in San Diego is starting to turn cold which honestly is a bit of a relief considering the hot summer we have endured (such a martyr, I know).  Fall is the perfect time for you to start thinking about your year-end appeal.

I remember the first time I wrote an end of the year appeal.  It must have taken me weeks on end.  I anguished over every word, punctuation and phrase.  The one-page letter was edited and re-edited again and again.  I asked for help from my father, colleagues and friends.  My fearless letter editor over the years is a good friend and fellow fundraiser who is the King of Direct Mail.  Truly.  Maybe he will post some tips?

So, find yourself a good editor who will be honest and will make you sound brilliant on paper.

Many direct mail letters later, I have learned that there is a formula.  It’s not magic, but I sure wish I had known it when I penned my first end of the year appeal letter.

Start with the “heart string” story.  The story about the kid whose life you saved – literally or figuratively.  The new clinic that has provided healthcare to hundreds of families who could not afford it.  The job training provided to a single mom that helped her get a higher paying job with less hours so she can spend more time with hr family.  The dog who was found beaten and bruised and now has a happy home.  These stories exemplify the mission of your organization.

Go out and interview your program staff.  Ask them for a “heart string” story.  They each have one because it is probably the reason they work at the organization. It is why they work long hours for little pay.  It is what keeps them up at night and gets them in to work early.  It is the reason that they strive to make a difference.

Or just go be part of one of your organization’s programs.  Interact with the people or animals that your organization serves.  See firsthand how the organization has, is and will change their life.

And it works!  I still remember a direct mail I received 8 years ago from Mama’s Kitchen.  It had a powerful story of one of their participants and how the organization had made a difference in his life.  This story made me feel passionate towards this organization.  Not because I knew anyone who had AIDS or anyone who had received services from Mama’s Kitchen.  Because it was a story that was human, that I could understand and one in which I could relate.

Now it is up to you to write this story, to pull the “heart string” of the reader.

And here are a few other tips:

  1. Include a donation card and return envelope.  Make sure that it is placed inside the folds of the letter so that it falls out of letter and into the reader’s lap as they open it.
  2. Use a live signature whenever possible.  Bonus points if the signatory also writes a personal note to the letter recipient.
  3. Work with a donor ahead of time to secure a match gift.  Put the match gift in the letter.  I bet you raise more than you ever have!  People like having their donations doubled.
  4. A picture says a thousand words so include one on the letter.
  5. Utilize email solicitation as well as snail mail solicitation.  You will have donors who prefer to give online just as you will have donors who prefer to write a check.
  6. Consider it success when you receive a 1-4% return on your mailing and 13+% for donors who have given before.
  7. Use a “P.S.” in every letter.  Many times people just skim the beautifully crafted letter that you wrote, but their eyes will stop on the “P.S.”
  8. Offer incentives for donations.  Hint: You can give donors “substantial” benefits without reducing their gift amount as long as those benefits do not exceed 2% of the amount given or $91.  Whichever is LESS.
  9. For added impact, do a phonathon to follow up with the people who received the letter.  Especially those who are past donors and you have not heard from them in over a month.

10. Quantify how a potential donor can make a difference: $50 will pay for vaccines for 5 underprivileged children.  $100 will provide food, shelter and clothing for an orphan for 6 months.

11. Don’t forget to thank your donors.  For substantial gifts, pick up the phone and call them to thank them.

So, what are your direct mail tips?

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