How can a nonprofit make its second appeal work better than its first?

Gloria Pugliese

By Gloria Pugliese

We’re two months into 2015 and hopefully you’ve been happily going about your business, taking it as it comes. It may seem a long way off now, but you know eventually you’ll glance at the calendar and have the sudden realization that the end of the year is approaching, and it will soon be that time again.

And no, we’re not talking about writing the family holiday card. We’re talking about the annual donor appeal for your nonprofit, and unlike your relatives, nobody is obligated to give you a penny. So how can you make this year’s appeal better than the last?

The key is to start now. If you wait until sometime in autumn to ask this question, you’ll already be too late to answer it effectively. That’s because planning an effective donor appeal is a year-round process, based primarily on responding to and analyzing the results of last year’s efforts.

Donor appeals are about building momentum, and the only way to keep that momentum going is to keep your donors in the loop. Following an appeal, take the time to creatively thank those who supported your organization. Anything personalized is the gold standard, and it doesn’t need to cost money. We’ve seen very effective thank you letters that included handwritten notes from students who benefited from donations. A simple phone call works wonders, too.

Don’t make the follow-up a one-way form of communication, though. Heed the saying, “If you ask people for money, they’ll give you advice. If you ask for advice, they’ll give you money.” Donors — particularly major ones — love to give their feedback on the appeal and messaging, and by engaging them you’ll receive important input on what hit home with prospects.

If your nonprofit has already been doing a great job thanking and garnering feedback from donors, you can start digging into the data from last year’s appeal to look for ways to make this year’s better. There are countless ways to analyze your results, such as determining what messages, media, demographics and delivery times work best. We’ve even seen studies showing that appeals featuring dogs instead of cats garnered more donations for an animal rescue nonprofit.

The key here is finding balance. You don’t want to exert more time and energy than needed to analyze your appeal. It’s easy to become hyper-focused on one approach, and lose donors to whom your new communications don’t appeal. You also need to be careful not to make too many changes at once. That will make it difficult to determine what change made the difference in your results.

If your nonprofit doesn’t have an expert in this field, consider bringing on a consultant such as Dunleavy & Associates before shelling out money for a robust CRM solution or placing the burden on your staff. You’ll get qualified insights into what will work best for your organization, and the expertise to execute analysis if needed.

About the author: Gloria Pugliese is Director, Advancement and Capital Campaigns at Dunleavy & Associates. A Certified Fund Raising Executive with more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit industry, Gloria formerly served as Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for La Salle University and Gwynedd-Mercy College, in addition to Director of Advancement for the Delaware County SPCA. She shares her expertise with clients seeking to improve their communications, capital campaigns and development.

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How much administrative support does a nonprofit board need?

Kate Goffredo Dougherty

By Kate Goffredo Dougherty

Time can be an easy thing to under-budget. A 20-minute drive into the city? Try 45. Half an hour at the grocery store? More like an hour and a half. A few minutes after dinner for a stroll around the block? Forget about it.

But time is the key factor when deciding how much administrative support a nonprofit needs to give to its board of directors. Over or underestimation of time commitments on either side can result in leadership breakdowns with ramifications throughout the organization. So how can this be avoided?

Follow this golden rule: Boards do not have a lot of time. Never lose sight of the fact that board members are almost always volunteers, with jobs and other commitments that will take priority over your organization. Even the most enthusiastic board member will at some point find themselves running short on time when life’s other responsibilities come calling.

For this reason, you must treat your board’s time with respect. Expect little of it, and make the most of what you do receive by giving extra emphasis to organization. When board meetings roll around, be prepared.

Don’t use word-of-mouth to determine who should be attending or what will be on the agenda. Instead, send out an email a week in advance with all of the necessary materials and a list of who will be speaking. If neither your board nor your administration has its ducks in a row prior to a meeting, you’ll end up wasting time or, even worse, arriving at crucial decisions based on faulty information.

Administrative support shouldn’t conclude with the meeting, either. Although it can be a cumbersome task, have someone take thorough minutes and commit to spending a few hours after the meeting to cleaning them up and sending them out. You have your board’s attention and the meeting is fresh on their minds, so follow up immediately. They can’t be expected to jump back into the fray a week or two down the line.

Occasionally, board members can actually be the ones who underestimate how much of their own time is needed. We see this often with organizations that lose an executive and decide to temporarily shift responsibilities to the board. Board members optimistically believe they can divvy up the time, but they often fail to realize the extent of responsibilities: tax filing, banking deposits, invoicing, event organization, and even day-to-day communication with employees and stakeholders.

These responsibilities should rarely, if ever, be given to board members, because these situations can quickly degrade into disorganization and lost revenue. For that reason we always advise nonprofits to enlist administrative support services provided by a company like Dunleavy & Associates when faced with an absence, even if only for a short period of time.

About the author: Kate Goffredo Dougherty is Senior Project Manager, Operations at Dunleavy & Associates. With a background in nonprofit administration, Kate oversees the lion’s share of Dunleavy’s operations, and shares her expertise with clients seeking to improve their operational and organizational management. She also specializes in event planning.


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