TIP OF THE MONTH – Raising $1,000+ gifts by mail

publication date: Dec 27, 2012
author/source: Heather Brown

Community leader, visionary philanthropist – whatever title you choose when approaching some of your most generous and loyal donors by mail – there are a few important details you want to keep in mind.Heather Brown

Before you put pen to paper, you should have already given some serious thought to the following: 

  • The audience you will approach (work with a group of qualified donors);
  • The project you will ask them to support (make it tangible);
  • The price tag for this project, the amount you will ask them to contribute (“stretch” gift) and the deadline (promotes a sense of urgency);
  • The language you will use, and the quality of the package (should be exclusive to match the commitment you are asking them to make); and
  • The stewardship promise to your donors (probably the most important of all).

Let’s take a closer look at each component.

The audience

The first step in soliciting $1,000+ gifts by mail is to determine your audience.  Several criteria can help qualify potential supporters. A donor’s last gift amount (for example, you may want to look at anyone who’s given $200+) and recency (last gift in 12-36 months) are factors. So is the individual’s capacity (how much money they have) and their affinity for your organization.    

The project

After you have determined who you are going to mail to, you should give some thought to what you will ask them to support. Try and make the “ask” tangible – a piece of equipment that will benefit hospital patients, or a well that will provide clean drinking water for children in Tanzania.  

It’s important that the project be compelling, that you clearly outline the issue and the solution, and that you make it easy for the donor to pledge their support.   

The price tag/deadline

It’s helpful when you can clearly outline how much you need and how much you are asking the donor to give. For instance, a new MRI tool might cost $3 million to purchase and install, so you might ask a direct mail donor to consider “stretching” their gift to $1,000 to support this purchase. Maybe clean drinking water and training in sanitation would cost $2,000 – why not ask the donor to increase their commitment and help a community battle thirst and diseases (imagine the impact!)

You will want to keep the ask and the reply coupon as simple as possible, but you still want to provide the donor with a variety of options to fulfill their gift (single gift, monthly and maybe even a pledge option). With donors who pledge, you will want to ensure that the proper measures are in place to capture and renew them after their pledge is up.  

Be sure to include a clear deadline (“We need your help by January 31st”) even if the deadline is an internal one. Donors typically respond more quickly and generously when there is a sense of urgency.  

The language and package

The writing style for a $1,000+ ask will be more sophisticated than a traditional direct mail letter, which is usually written at an eighth-grade eight level. This would be a great opportunity to brand and promote a giving club. For example, you might ask donors to join your President’s Circle or The Dean’s Club.  Branding this group helps create a sense of exclusivity. It also makes it easy for you to give some profile to this group in newsletters, annual reports or donor recognition events.  

Additionally, you will want to ensure that you take the time and space you need to make the case for support. Make it personal by including the donor’s last gift amount and date, and remember to highlight your organization’s mission and vision. Remind donors of the good work your organization is doing and the lives being transformed as a result of that work. Ask donors to invest in your organization’s future, and most importantly, thank them for their past generosity and commitment to your cause.

Make sure you opt for high-end stock, a handwritten address and a real stamp. It’s important that the package be somewhat more exclusive than traditional direct mail to align with the level of commitment you are seeking.  

The stewardship promise to donors  

The most important detail trumps all of the above: your stewardship promise to your donors. You need to be able to clearly articulate what donors can expect to receive in exchange for their increased support. Maybe it’s a special, behind-the-scenes invitation to tour your hospital, care centre or church. Maybe it’s an opportunity to see firsthand the new piece of equipment they helped to fund. Maybe it’s a personalized follow-up letter or video from a volunteer working overseas.

It might be something as simple as recognition in your donor newsletter or annual report, or an opportunity to include their name on a prominent display or donor board. At the very least, donors should receive regular updates from your organization via mail and email (based on their communication preferences, of course).   

After you have received the gift

Receiving the gift is really just the beginning of your relationship with the donor. Remember, you need to have a plan for appropriate acknowledgement (thanking and receipting), recognition (donor list, annual report, donor wall), and stewardship (reporting back). 

In fact, in the first 48 hours after making the gift, your donor is assessing their experience with your organization and deciding whether or not they will ever make a repeat gift. How your donor is thanked, and how quickly, will impact their overall donor experience and their sense of connection to your cause.  

Whatever you do, don’t make the assumption that because they have increased their support, they no longer want to receive mail over the course of the year. Be careful not to remove them from the regular direct mail cycle too soon. What sometimes ends up happening is that a major gift officer is assigned, and then the donor falls through the cracks because the major gift officer is working on larger gifts.

A “donor centered” approach would be to contact the donor to thank them for their gift and ask them how often they want to hear from you , who they would most like to hear from and what they would like or expect to receive. 

Do you have a great example to share of a successful high-end mail campaign? I would love to hear from you by email  or on Twitter at @Heather_Brown2.

After more than 10 years in the nonprofit sector helping to raise money for various worthy charities, Heather Brown decided to join the Good Works team and put her experience to work to help Good Works’ clients reach their fundraising goals. She’s passionate about direct mail and legacy marketing and strives to help her clients make a positive impact on the community.

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