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Annual Donor Communication Plan to Boost Year-End Results

by Lisa Schohl | 8.9.18 | The Chronicle of Philanthropy

It’s no secret that the holiday season is a lifeline for many nonprofits. In fact, 50 percent of charities bring in the bulk of their annual donations from October through December, according to GuideStar.

But raising money when nearly all nonprofits are vying for supporters’ attention isn’t easy. To maximize your organization’s year-end results, it’s important to lay the foundation for holiday giving all year long, says Amy Ricigliano, vice president for client services at Eidolon Communications. All communications should work together to tell a cohesive story that starts in January and builds up to the year’s end, she adds.

Ricigliano recommends using a 12-month editorial calendar to map out messages for the year and coordinate content across communication channels. The planning tool also helps make sure no group of supporters falls through the cracks.

“Besides just picking what you’re going to highlight,” Ricigliano says, “you’re figuring out where throughout the year you can communicate to these specific segments of donors.” For example, if your calendar is focused on asking donors to give again this year, you’ll want to incorporate a couple of other types of messages, such as e-newsletters, for those who have already donated.

“While all donors constantly say they want less mail,” Ricigliano adds, “the opposite proves to be true when you’re examining giving patterns. They still need to hear from you and be reminded of the work you’re doing in order to continue to give.”

Eidolon’s calendar offers a big-picture view of the year’s communications and a monthly breakdown of themes, appeals, and tactics for each channel. It also separates people into the following three groups: direct mail alone or combined with other channels, online only, and “email nondonors” — people you hope will give for the first time. Although more and more groups are segmenting their donors in this way, Ricigliano says, you’ll want to tailor the template to your nonprofit’s priorities. For instance, some organizations may want to add a track for new donors and develop messages just for them throughout the year.

A Year’s Plan

Here’s an overview of Ricigliano’s recommendations for an editorial flow that boosts fundraising results:

January: Unless your group’s renewals are based on an expiration date, such as membership organizations like aquariums, focus heavily on asking your donors to renew their support for the year, online and off. You may also want to consider adding a “join” message for those who haven’t yet given to your group. This month’s messages should be “very institutionally focused and forward-looking,” Ricigliano says. Highlight your plan and goals for the year, why you need support, and how donations will make a difference.

February-May: Keep targeting donor renewals in your direct-mail appeals, getting more and more pointed about needing support. Online, focus less on donations and more on showcasing different aspects of your impact each month to get at people’s varied motivations for giving.

March: This could be a smart time to coordinate a matching-gift campaign online and off since people who contributed to your group during the holidays may be ready to give again, Ricigliano says. Plus, this gives you a message for those who have already renewed their support.

Late spring: Consider mailing an informative piece geared toward cultivation, like a newsletter, and sharing parts of it online. The main idea is to stay in touch with your donors, not to ask outright for a contribution.

June: Promote monthly giving on all your platforms. “People do that at various times during the year,” Ricigliano says, not necessarily in June. But it’s helpful to choose one or two months to emphasize recurring donations in a coordinated way, she adds.

Late summer or early fall: Send something in the mail that gives your supporters a way to get involved in your work besides just donating, such as a petition, survey, or card in which they can write a message of encouragement for program beneficiaries.

Monthly: Plan an “online involvement technique” with the same goal as above. This can be fun or silly, Ricigliano says, but people who participate will be more likely to donate later. For example, Heifer International creates quizzes, including one that asks people to guess whether an animal in an image is a sheep or a goat. She adds, “The possibilities are sort of endless — anything you’d be comfortable asking the supporter to do.”

Fall-December: Shift from emphasizing renewals to communications that are “more heart-driven than head-driven,” like personal stories that convey your impact and build an emotional connection to your work.

How to Customize

Keep in mind that this calendar is just an example, Ricigliano says, and you should customize it based on what works for your organization. She shared a few tips for doing so:

  • Start creating your calendar for the following year in September or October, after you wrap up year-end planning in the summer. “You’ll have a much better idea of your program plans for the upcoming year and can start mapping it out and identify where holes might be,” she says.
  • Focus on channels that will deliver the greatest return on your investment. For example, small nonprofits may not want to spend a lot of time on social media. “The amount of money you’re going to get from that is very small unless you’re very sophisticated on it and have a large audience,” Ricigliano says.
  • Track your results — online and off — as you go, and make adjustments as needed. Figure out how to evaluate your online efforts right away and respond quickly but also assess the overall campaign after enough time has passed.
  • Use the best of what you’ve learned during the year to inform your year-end strategy. Perhaps most important, Ricigliano says, don’t worry too much about making sure your calendar is “100 percent comprehensive and up-to-date every second.”
  • “It’s very, very rare that everybody sticks to this,” she says, “but it helps you to get everybody talking about what they’re going to do and thinking about where they would be able to support each other. And that conversation is the thing that most advances your fundraising.”

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