One of the lessons I learned fairly early in business is that you need to always keep up with emerging trends. One of the best ways to do this is by reading and learning – either thru classes, seminar, webinars or other blogs. And while there is a never-ending supply of new reading materials, some times taking a look back over previous materials can be a good thing as well.
Recently I did just that – re-reading a classic book on direct mail fundraising - “Revolution in the Mailbox.” Written by Mal Warwick, who is recognized as a real leader in the nonprofit field, it is a comprehensive guide to direct mail fundraising. With ideas and tips ranging from strategies, test mailings, insight on premiums or incentives, and developing Annual Giving or Monthly Giving programs, it really is a wealth of relevant information. And with the classic Year-end Appeal season rapidly approaching, I figured this was a good time to revisit the book.
Not only did this spark a few thoughts, but it also served to remind me of all the basics in fundraising that really have not changed much over the years. Sure some of the strategies have evolved, and especially the new media formats that can and should be utilized, but the concept of developing a plan and then sticking to it has not changed! Especially when it comes to prospecting. There has been a real strong trend for appeals to be gaining in overall average donation amounts, with an offsetting trend of lower number of donors. Even within very strong fundraising organizations. The bottom line is that loyal donors have changes within their lives too – some pass away, others move away, and many find other organizations of interest. Another reason is that as a donor reaches retirement age, they tend to “pull back” on active giving – choosing to save their resources. Of course these individuals then become “ripe” for planned giving, so one cannot forget this emphasis.
For many organizations the emphasis on prospecting has been an easy element to let slide. Especially with the strain on the economy as of late, saving money by eliminating this strategy seems to make sense. And yet, with out a steady stream of new donors, keeping the revenue stream moving forward is not so easy. Unless you have a well capitalized budget for this, I would not suggest jumping in with both feet – rather develop a plan that at least starts with 2,500 to 5,000 names if you are a smaller organization, or up to 10,000 or more for a larger organization. Work on creating multiple touches to engage this group – especially with various media formats. Share you mission and passion -then make it a priority to cultivate any new donors, and stick to the plan. It will take 3 to 4 years to make this pay off, but without this strategy you will find an even bigger hole to fill!