As the smoke clears from another end-of-year fundraising season, fundraisers and nonprofit leaders are starting to assess how their campaigns and strategies worked.
While there are countless assets to every fundraising campaign, today I want to discuss what in my opinion is one of the most important — "the list."
The list I'm referring to is your database of names, email addresses, mailing addresses, and phone numbers — the repository of all the contact information you have on current, lapsed, and potential donors.
At the beginning of every new year, fundraisers and development professionals have a simple goal: develop a fundraising strategy that will yield more revenue for their organizations so they can fulfill their missions and scale their efforts to do more good. So, why should they worry about a list of contacts?
Take it from me. You can have the best mission, the best creative, the best design, and the best messaging in the world, but none of it will matter if your list isn't up to the job. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the "health" of your contact list is probably the single greatest factor in the success (or failure) of your next fundraising campaign.
That's right. So, don't waste another day wondering whether you need a new direct mail strategy or your messaging is off. Until you've taken these steps to strengthen your list, everything else is putting the cart before the horse:
1. Send messages to your list on a regular basis. Imagine a friend who only contacts you once a year, and when she does it's to ask for money. Chances are she won't be your friend for long. You need to think of your contact list the same way. Beyond the handful of solicitations you're planning to send over the course of the year, reach out to the folks on your list with relevant information, news, and updates. At least four times a year (not counting fundraising solicitations), send your donors and would-be supporters something that reinforces the vision and values they share with your organization and highlights both the issue you're working on and the role they play in supporting your efforts.
2. Blend your online and offline strategies. Multi-channel lists are vital to the success of a multi-channel campaign. There, I said it. Even if your e-newsletters reach thousands of readers, it doesn't necessarily mean those readers are engaged with your work. While email and other forms of digital outreach are cost effective and can deliver a lot of bang for the buck, don't ignore the power of print to resonate with your donors and potential supporters. Print pieces like a postcard bearing the image of a group of people who have been helped by your efforts can engage and build interest just as effectively as sharing those individual stories online through a video and or blog post. In other words, be creative when thinking about how you "connect" people to your cause — and don't rule anything out.
3. Build your lists through old-fashioned cultivation, not by purchasing them. You can't buy a meaningful relationship with a donor. You need, instead, to empower your staff, volunteers, and active supporters to leverage their communities and networks on your behalf by communicating to them the critical importance of the issue you are working on. But before you try to solicit a donation from a new contact (provided by an active supporter), be sure to reach out to her with something more personal. In many cases, this means you'll have to get out of the office and meet her where she lives — people don't support an organization or cause just because it has a great website or a friend recommended they should. As often as not, you have to go out and earn their support.
4. Use volunteers to scrub your list. Don't make the mistake of thinking you're the only one who can manage and cultivate your organization's relationships with donors and potential supporters. Volunteers are the lifeblood of most nonprofit organizations, and one way you can leverage their commitment is by having them call and/or send an email to the names on your list. Have them provide updates with regard to your recent activities and empower them to talk about what's happening around your issue or cause. Remind them to thank (and re-thank) your active donors for their support and then encourage those donors to tell others about your issue or cause. And in cases where a volunteer has had a good conversation with a donor, be sure to send a follow-up note from the volunteer thanking that person for his or her time.
Your contact list truly can make or break a fundraising campaign or strategy. A new project, catchy messaging, a bold graphic design — all those will count for little if you've failed to establish real connections with real people. So, take care of your list — now, before the year gallops away from you — and it will take care of you.
Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and campaigns agency, and author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.