Now is the time to start building your annual mid-level communication plan. Does that thought overwhelm you? Is it stressful to think about how you’re going to get all the content created for the year’s plan?
If you’re nodding your head yes, you’re not alone. As someone who has built a mid-level program, I’ve grappled with the challenges of managing a team and creating a thoughtful twelve-month communication plan, while also handling a portfolio of donors. And there are some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.
Many of you may be lucky enough to have an incredible team to create donor content, but I know others feel the weight of creating it yourself. If you’re one of the latter, I’m sharing three ways you can partner with your direct response colleagues to minimize some of the burden you may be feeling about creating enough content for a twelve-month plan (reminder, that’s about 7-8 touch points a year).
Here’s a few items that your direct response team is likely already creating, and how you can capitalize on their incredible work:
Newsletters mailed directly to the MLO –
Does your direct response team send newsletters out quarterly, or even twice a year? If so, this is another great area for partnership. Consider asking if you can exclude your donors from getting one of the mass mailed pieces, and instead ask if they can be mailed to you. Then, you can mail them out yourself, with a handwritten note directing the donor to the part of the newsletter that you know will resonate with them. Or, maybe instead you include a sticky note on the page of the newsletter you know they’ll find inspiring.
Remember, open rates will increase with handwritten envelopes. Short on time? Just write the envelopes for the Tier A donors and maybe a few high-level B donors. You can use labels for the rest. But don’t stop there. If you don’t have time to handwrite addresses, consider writing a handwritten “thank you” across the back of the envelope. It’s quick, and easy to write, and it will ensure it gets opened by more of your supporters.
Sticky notes from the MLO –
Some of you may not be able to have the newsletters mailed directly to you. Now what? Give up and move on? Heck no (remember, we’re consistently persistent in fundraising)! Ask if the direct response vendor can include a sticky note, on each mid-level managed donor’s newsletter, with a short, pre-printed message, signed by you. Draft some language that makes the note feel personalized and use that as your touch point. It’s not as relationship-oriented as mailing them with a handwritten note, but it’s more impactful than a regular direct response newsletter, with no note. Here’s an example of what you could include: “Dear John, this short but powerful newsletter demonstrates the many areas of our work that you make possible. We couldn’t do this without you. Thank you for your continued support. With Gratitude, Kara”
Year-end solicitations –
This is at the core of what direct response does and they start planning these early. (Usually starting in the summer.) Have you considered how you can partner with them on these solicitations? With enough planning, you might be able to even specify the solicitation amount that’s being asked of the donor. The key is to start this process as soon as possible! If that’s not doable, there are other opportunities to use this year-end ask to build stronger relationships with your partners. For instance, you can ask about sending these directly so you can add a personal note, or ask about including your information in the mailing.
One of our clients’ solicitations was from their founder, but in the P.S., they included the mid-level officer’s name and phone number, in the event the donor needed a contact. It looked something like this: “Please call NAME at NUMBER if you need any help with your year-end gift. Thank you!” This does two things – first, it provides the donor with a contact should they need anything. And second, it gives the mid-level officer a great opportunity for follow-up.
When it comes to follow-up from direct response pieces, a week after the letter has been mailed is a great time to call and check-in with the donor. Confirm the donor received the letter, ask if they have any questions and, even better, ask about how you can serve them. If this is the first time you’ve spoken to them, this is your chance to build a connection. Seek to learn their passions and interests, and ask how they want YOU to communicate with them (not the organization, but you, as their donor representative).
Last, but certainly not least, if you reach a donor, take the opportunity to celebrate them. And don’t forget to use Permission Based Asking™. It might look like this: “Donor, do you have just two more minutes? I’d love to share a quick story about the difference your support makes.” Always have a story of impact in your back pocket – celebrating the donor’s investments through a mission-focused story is a key part of any donor call.
While I have seen variations of all three ideas listed above successfully executed, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that while partnering with direct response has a huge upside, there are also areas to monitor and be considerate of. If we utilize too much content from our direct response partners, then we aren’t truly being relational in our work.
So in one breath I’m telling you to work with direct response, and in the next, I’m telling you not to work with them too much.
I get it, it might sound confusing. But what I’m saying is: let’s not lose sight of being intentional in our work, in being fully relationship-focused. While it’s wonderful to work with direct response on a couple of pieces a year – year-end solicitations and perhaps one other mailing, the other annual touchpoints need to be more intentional and centered around your donors’ passions and interests, with reporting on impact.
Ultimately, the job of direct response is to raise money transactionally. That means they’re going to include an ask with every piece they send. Whereas the job of a mid-level officer is to raise money relationally. That means you need to deliver impact all year long, and then ask for money when you know it’s the time of year your donor likes to support your cause. I trust you see the difference.
The moral here? Take comfort that you may have a great resource in direct response for a couple of your touchpoints next year. But don’t forget to always keep the donor at the center of your work. Between you and your marketing team, you should be able to easily come up with another 4-5 touchpoints that deliver impact to help you continue to keep, lift, and move your donors along the pipeline.
Kara Ansotegui is a Client Experience Leader at Veritus Group. She has over 20 years of experience in non-profit leadership serving in fundraising and marketing executive roles. Kara has been responsible for strategic program development in major gifts, mid-level, and donor relations. She has served as the CRM data management SME for numerous non-profits. Kara has an undergraduate in Business Administration from Oregon State University and an MBA in Marketing from Georgia State University.