By Robyn Zimmann
Senior Consultant at Cain Nonprofit Solutions
It’s that time of year when all the annual fund letters from various organizations are starting to pile up on my desk. What have I already done this year? Turns out I’m part of the herd – according to a new study by data axle, 51% of donors say they have not changed their donation amount during the pandemic (that’s me). Better yet, 28% have said they now donate more than they did prior to the pandemic, while 21% give less. If you’re relying on, (and hoping for) your donor base remaining loyal, rest easy. Only 7% of respondents have jumped ship to support different non-profits.
Those statistics can offer some hope as the giving season heats up. In addition to your appeal letter, don’t be afraid to send multiple emails in these next two months. Proven subject lines make all the difference for open rates. Current stats from my new best friend Jay Schwedelson of Worldata show that we like lists, such as “5 Reasons to Give Today” or your own creative take. Emojis in the subject line will increase your open rates, go figure! Using the word “Hurry” in your subject line will get you a 24% open rate. Ellipses work by creating suspense: “5 reasons we need your help today…” Consider changing who the appeal email is from by making your organization’s most recognizable public name (i.e. a symphony orchestra’s conductor) the “friendly from”, as this also increases open rates. Despite the ongoing issues with Facebook, it’s targeted advertising really works, and is a fairly inexpensive way to reach new constituents and potential donors. Keep your messaging and graphics consistent throughout the different platforms that you utilize.
So, the future. If you’re a performing arts nonprofit, you’re already well into thinking about and planning for 2022-2023. Add this to your thoughts: Toward the beginning of my 10-year span in non-profit leadership, our organization made a brave decision to change the start date of our annual fund campaign. I say “brave”, because rather than send the appeal letter in the fall, we decided to move the send date back to May. There was some fear that people would say “hello, we just sent you a check.” And fear that our long-time elderly donors would be confused or upset. And given that our fiscal year ended August 31st, we were going to have to change some of our accounting practices in order to apply the incoming dollars to the next season, which began September 1. So, there were some hurdles, including re-configuring of resources, volunteer help for the mailing, etc.
We figured it all out, sent the letters and held our collective breath. And… nothing happened except the checks started coming in just like they always did. Our development director put together a plan for having willing board members make follow-up phone calls 30 days after the letters went out. More money came in from the stragglers. And, most exciting, from first-time donors. After the board finished their calls, the development director spent a final month making “mop-up” calls, and single-handedly netted a minimum of $15K from those calls every year. Along the way we also sent a reminder postcard, and reminder emails with a link to donate. (Social media wasn’t quite a thing yet). All told, for those donors that needed it, we fulfilled the “Rule of 7”. With this plan, our annual fund giving grew year over year, even during the Great Recession.
But here’s the thing. By starting our annual fund appeal in May instead of in the Fall, we weren’t competing with every other nonprofit on the planet. (And, true fact, 54% of nonprofits start planning their year-end appeal in October. Whut?!) November (46%) and December (31%) are the most popular months for making asks. Only 7.7% of orgs start as early as September. So, our appeal letter in May likely being the only letter in “the pile”, got all the attention.
Here’s the other thing. By fall the annual fund campaign was largely finished and we could focus on the start of our season, upcoming fundraisers and all the usual stuff, and the money was already in the bank. We sent out a final email reminder in December and scooped up the procrastinators and new donors who attended our fall concerts for the first time.
Food for thought, eh? Best wishes to all of you for a successful 2021 giving season!