Your hands ache from writing “We couldn’t do this work without you,” on hundreds of cards. The papercuts on your fingertips sting as you shovel another handful of Fritos into your mouth, desperate to keep your strength up to stuff more envelopes. The stacks of letters, notes, tri-fold mailers, and other materials threaten to turn your desk into kindling. Sound familiar? Well, that means it’s time for year-end donor outreach!
The time between the first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season and the final Peppermint Mocha feels like a headlong tumble down a steep hill. The lazy fade of summer turns quickly into a rapid-fire rush of major holidays and events, and a scramble to book gifts before the new year. It’s easy to feel tempted to increase the frequency of your personal donor outreach to match the breakneck pace of the season. But you should be aware of the risks of overwhelming or annoying donors with a flood of communications at year-end. Luckily, the following solutions can help lessen those risks.
Risk: Too Many Touch Points
Solution: Embrace “Less is More”
The urge to celebrate every milestone, holiday, and event at year’s end is understandable. The sheer number of special occasions makes it easy to schedule timely outreach around gratitude and the importance of giving. But that uptick in messages can easily shift a donor’s mindset from, “I feel connected,” to, “ANOTHER letter / email / call from this place?”
Focus on providing donors with fewer, but more compelling, personalized content. You don’t have to recount EVERYTHING your organization has done in the last year. Most likely, your direct response team is already doing a phenomenal job of that through their communications. Instead, craft a simple year-end outreach and communications plan around a unified theme. Limit the number of mailings and infuse your letters with elements of that theme.
One of our mid-level clients shared how she designed a simple theme for her fall touch points around the need to balance celebrating the holiday season with the reality that many people don’t have the luxury of celebration. She limited the number of times she contacted donors, and each message called back to that simple theme, while weaving in the variety of services her organization provides.
You can tailor your outreach to provide a concise, compelling written note, a brief report on impact and ongoing needs, and a concrete example of how the services the organization provides has affected someone. Stick to your theme, keep it simple, and it will resonate with donors more than a larger series of communications.
Risk: Lost in the Shuffle
Solution: Show Up Differently
With all the important communication happening at year-end, there’s a risk that whatever you send may get lost in the shuffle. It’s safe to assume that if you’re ramping up, other fundraisers are, too. There isn’t much you can do to affect other fundraisers’ actions, but you can be strategic about distinguishing your personal communications from the rest.
Lucky for you, many non-profits do NOT hesitate to increase the number of communications they send: direct mail, solicitation forms, mass emails with an increasing sense of urgency. While these are important strategies that support your organization’s fundraising efforts, it does make it even more valuable to identify how you can creatively stand out. One idea is to switch up not just the cadence of outreach, but also the content and format. Instead of another letter, send a short video message or a quick text with a story or photo… just something that speaks from the heart.
Risk: The Same Old Story
Solution: Complement, Don’t Duplicate
It’s also important to take into account what your marketing / direct mail / program colleagues plan to send donors for year-end outreach, so you avoid the risk of sending duplicative, or even inconsistent, content to your donors.
One Major Gifts Officer we work with actually told us that a donor told her that her organization was last year’s “Most Junk Mail” honoree. On top of two handwritten holiday cards, a personalized lifetime giving report, and multiple bespoke updates, the MGO’s own non-profit had emailed or mailed the donor FIFTEEN times between October and December. That is, as we say in the biz, not great. Now we, as fundraising professionals, understand why the organization was sending this quantity of mailings at year-end, and we don’t at all want to discourage that. There is great data to show that this direct response strategy works exceptionally well. There is, however, an important lesson here in how you can personalize your messages to ensure that all the content you provide is relevant and of value to the donor.
We recommend that you tailor your year-end outreach to complement other departments’ plans. For example, if Marketing sends donors a numbers-focused recap of last year’s services, you can provide a more focused testimonial or profile of a recipient of those services. Likewise, if your social media campaign highlights individuals served, you can send personalized impact reports to donors to highlight their long-term connection to the mission.
As you consider how to connect with donors at the end of the year, your best approach is to be thoughtful and judicious. Opt for concise, persuasive, relational touch points in varied formats that are relevant and meaningful to the donor over just more outreach. Don’t worry too much about not having a message for every occasion. Donors will appreciate your restraint, and your respect for their time and attention will pay off in this critical time of year.
Drew Coursin is a Client Experience Leader at Veritus with more than 20 years’ experience building partnerships, developing strategic visions, communicating effectively, and helping non-profits and donors alike unite their philanthropic goals with opportunities to move missions forward. No matter what the project, Drew approaches his work with a positive attitude, enduring sense of humor, consistency, and a philosophy that relationships and the ability to tell a crisp, compelling story are central to any individual and collective success.