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Assess Your Year-End Appeals—Are You Doing Them Right?

Resource Center - Foundation

At this point in the year you have likely already gone out with your year-end appeals and are in the midst of follow-ups, and hopefully, collecting and calculating donations. As you are knee-deep in appeal-season, it’s the perfect time to take a step back and assess your appeals to make sure you’re doing them the right way—it’s never too late to implement best practices. If nothing else, you’ll be well on your way to more successful appeals in 2014!

Laurie De Armond, the leader of the Education and Nonprofit Industry Group at BDO, is responsible for helping to direct the strategy and thought leadership for the industry group. She lends some insight on how to do year-end appeals right, and tasks you with evaluating your appeals as they stand today. To help you assess your year-end appeals and further enhance your position to your donors, you should ask yourself these questions:

1.)   Are you measuring and recording your nonprofit’s program results?

2.)   Are your nonprofit’s appeals, external reports and annual reports focused more on impact over numbers (i.e. overhead costs)?

If you answered ‘no’ to either of these questions, or if you are even the slightest bit on the fence – read on to find out how to better your appeals for next year, and see what you should be doing for your 2013 appeals right NOW!

Measure, Record, Repeat

If you’re already reporting impact on your current year appeals – great! If not, it’s time to start NOW.

“Really, the time to start planning for next year’s appeals is now, with reporting and measuring your nonprofit’s programs,” says De Armond. Making reporting a part of your plan now will ensure that you have a very articulate message to show the impact of your nonprofit in 2014, and will ultimately attract more donors.

De Armond finds that there is a big push right now for nonprofits to report their program results and she recognizes that for some, it may be difficult. “Some nonprofits don’t have the infrastructure to record their impact,” recognizes De Armond. “The best organizations are showing their results on their websites and in their annual reports. It’s imperative to your nonprofit’s success to join the reporting game.” 

Not sure where to start? CharityNavigator highlights some best practices for nonprofits to be transparent in their reporting. Check out how some of the best-of-the-best in the field are doing it.

Impact > Overhead

Overhead transparency is an ongoing question that the industry is wrestling with. “Overhead numbers are valuable, but it’s only one data point,” says De Armond. “Donors are increasingly considering the totality of the information that’s out there about the nonprofit—they’re not just relying upon one or two statistics to inform their decision.”

Sometimes a picture gets painted of a nonprofit showing that they are irresponsible because they spend too much on overhead, but that is a misconceived evaluation of the nonprofit. In order to safeguard assets you have to have overhead. “The overhead ratio is one of the factors that should be considered, but numbers only tell part of the picture,” says De Armond.

Donors need to make a personal decision on how much of an impact they’re expecting the nonprofit to make with their donation—that impact outweighs the overhead numbers. The best way to persuade a donor’s decision is to funnel down and show the impact of your nonprofit’s efforts. Be extremely clear about the number of people you helped through the campaign you were funding. Don’t just talk about the research that came about from the campaign—talk about the people who benefitted from that research. Don’t be fixated on the dollar amount, be fixated on the impact. External reports, annual reports, appeal letters—they all have to be focused on the impact. (Impact, impact, impact—I think you get the point.)

Yes, you still want to make sure the overhead information is available, but don’t shine the light simply on overhead—focus on the positive, the impact.

Unfortunately, impact is not a one-size-fits-all measurement—it is very unique to each organization. That’s why it’s so hard for a donor to compare one nonprofit’s impact to another—it can be like comparing apples to oranges.

“It would be hard for a donor to compare a museum’s impact to a disaster relief organization’s impact because each is measured in such different ways,” says De Armond. Instead, focus on like-organizations—compare your reporting to theirs and make sure you measure up, or surpass them.

Rounding Out 2013 and Prepping For 2014

Starting the New Year off with resolutions is helpful, but there’s no need to look back in hindsight with retroactive solutions. Be proactive and close out 2013 on a fundraising high-note!

Things to do now:

1.)   Start measuring your program’s impact and recording the results. Turn to CharityNavigator for how some of the best are recording and reporting. Get in-tune with your program offerings and funnel all the way down to how they affected an individual—there’s your impact.

2.)   Look at your competition in the field. There’s no better time than now to see how your competition (i.e. similar nonprofits) is reporting their 2013 impact through their year-end appeals and annual report. Pay attention to what they’re doing now so you can measure up in 2014.  

3.)   Get into the “donor-mode.” Look at your appeals, and others, as the donor—ask yourself: does this strike a chord in me? Does this make me want to give? Would I instantly delete or trash this? Channel your ‘yes’s’ and ‘no’s’ into fuel for next year’s appeals!

For more tips on year-end appeals, here are ten of the top articles from the blogosphere in 2013. Happy ‘appealing’! 

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