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Finding the Right Date for Year-End and Holiday Appeals

Resource Center - Foundation

An AFP member asked on the open forums about when it might be too late to send a year-end, holiday direct mail appeal, wondering specifically about sending a communications on December 14. Here are some of the responses and insights provided by members:

  • “Our best response has been if it goes out right around Thanksgiving, well in advance of the holiday.“ 
  • “We typically send ours before Thanksgiving. If you factor in post office delays, you could be looking at letters arriving after the New Year. It once took 3 ½ weeks for one of our mailings to reach recipients at my prior organization. I think December 15 is fine for an electronic campaign, but it seems late for a direct mail campaign. If it has to be December, I’d suggest the very first week and not mid-month." 
  • “Another vote for prior to Thanksgiving.  That way you’re not competing with Black Friday for disposable income. Our bulk mail hits within a week, so we’re OK. December 14th is too late in my book. Although an e-mail during the last week of December for online donations as a last second tax deduction would be a good follow-up.” 
  • “Research shows that a multi-touch approach works best.  I send out two letters – one in early November and another on in December.  In between we send the donor newsletter (a non-ask direct mail piece that illustrates how donations are used).  We also send out e-blasts to our email list.  Finally, we engage our stewardship committee to make calls to (1) donors who have already responded to the appeal and say “thank you” and (2) previous donors that have not yet responded and say “thank you for your past support; we hope you’ll consider supporting us this year…”  Finally, don’t forget the eblasts on December 29th and 30th saying “its not too late” and include instructions for online giving!” 
  • “We plan to institute calls from board members this year. We were thinking of doing a heads up call, having board members say the appeal is on its way and to look out for it.” 
  • “ Here are the steps [for having board members call]: #1 (and most important), have the caller introduce themselves as a volunteer. #2, have the caller announce that they are not calling to ask for money over the phone. #3 – listen for sigh of relief (ok…not a real step…but this does happen)
  • “Then, have the caller explain their volunteer connect (I am a board member, development committee member…) and their personal connection with the organization. The caller then should thank the donor for their previous support; “as a volunteer and a donor as well, I thank you for your support…” Then have the caller ask the donor to consider supporting the organization in the future (let them fill in their own words).
  • “If your volunteers have never called, they might not feel comfortable with the third bullet point.  I suggest doing a practice run in the springtime.  Always have a de-brief afterward (e.g. at the next stewardship committee meeting).”
  • “I agree with what others have said re: December 14th being too late for a direct mail campaign, and echo their suggestions.  In my experience, unless you're in the mail during the first few days in December, and it's a follow up to a [direct mail] package that was dropped 4-8 weeks previously, I'd repurpose your spend towards an online and/or phone campaign.”
  • “Last year, I did a holiday mailing which dropped in Toronto against a similar time frame - December 16th (not intentionally; the organization was going through some major changes which caused delays).  We used a first-class stamp so it hit households within a few days, but it was still too late.  (It didn't help that the artwork was a wintery/snowflake theme and there was generally no snow at that time due to an unseasonably warm December.)  The mailing barely broke even, with most gifts coming in January to March.  A year end eblast sent the last week of December would likely have lifted the response rate for the [direct mail] and secured more net revenue between both channels, but the charity opted not to do an online campaign.” 

What are your thoughts? How does your organization approach its year-end solicitations? You can keep the conversation going on the AFP open forums, use AFP2P or send your thoughts to paffairs@afpnet.org



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