How can a nonprofit make its second appeal work better than its first?

Gloria Pugliese

By Gloria Pugliese

We're two months into 2015 and hopefully you've been happily going about your business, taking it as it comes. It may seem a long way off now, but you know eventually you'll glance at the calendar and have the sudden realization that the end of the year is approaching, and it will soon be that time again.

And no, we're not talking about writing the family holiday card. We're talking about the annual donor appeal for your nonprofit, and unlike your relatives, nobody is obligated to give you a penny. So how can you make this year's appeal better than the last?

The key is to start now. If you wait until sometime in autumn to ask this question, you'll already be too late to answer it effectively. That's because planning an effective donor appeal is a year-round process, based primarily on responding to and analyzing the results of last year's efforts.

Donor appeals are about building momentum, and the only way to keep that momentum going is to keep your donors in the loop. Following an appeal, take the time to creatively thank those who supported your organization. Anything personalized is the gold standard, and it doesn’t need to cost money. We've seen very effective thank you letters that included handwritten notes from students who benefited from donations. A simple phone call works wonders, too.

Don't make the follow-up a one-way form of communication, though. Heed the saying, "If you ask people for money, they'll give you advice. If you ask for advice, they'll give you money." Donors — particularly major ones — love to give their feedback on the appeal and messaging, and by engaging them you'll receive important input on what hit home with prospects.

If your nonprofit has already been doing a great job thanking and garnering feedback from donors, you can start digging into the data from last year's appeal to look for ways to make this year's better. There are countless ways to analyze your results, such as determining what messages, media, demographics and delivery times work best. We've even seen studies showing that appeals featuring dogs instead of cats garnered more donations for an animal rescue nonprofit.

The key here is finding balance. You don't want to exert more time and energy than needed to analyze your appeal. It's easy to become hyper-focused on one approach, and lose donors to whom your new communications don't appeal. You also need to be careful not to make too many changes at once. That will make it difficult to determine what change made the difference in your results.

If your nonprofit doesn't have an expert in this field, consider bringing on a consultant such as Dunleavy & Associates before shelling out money for a robust CRM solution or placing the burden on your staff. You'll get qualified insights into what will work best for your organization, and the expertise to execute analysis if needed.

About the author: Gloria Pugliese is Director, Advancement and Capital Campaigns at Dunleavy & Associates. A Certified Fund Raising Executive with more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit industry, Gloria formerly served as Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for La Salle University and Gwynedd-Mercy College, in addition to Director of Advancement for the Delaware County SPCA. She shares her expertise with clients seeking to improve their communications, capital campaigns and development.