It’s that time of year again — when you kick yourself for not starting to plan your organization’s year-end fund raising appeal earlier. But there is still time to whip together a guerrilla campaign using email and online donation tools, even if you’ve never done it before.
If you have a list of supporters’ email addresses and can put in about 24 hours’ worth of time, in about two weeks you can salvage this year’s online appeal and learn some valuable lessons to help you in the future. Let’s break it down into seven steps.
1. Figure out if you have enough email addresses to make the effort worthwhile.
In two weeks you can craft a strategy and get started with the tools, but you’re not likely to be able to build a useful list of email addresses from scratch. How many reasonably up-to-date email addresses do you have? As a rule of thumb you can expect a donation from about 1 percent of your list. If you send an email to 1,000 people, expect about 10 of them to donate. However, online donors typically give slightly larger average gifts than other donors. If your email list is substantial enough to make your appeal worth the time, move on to step two.
2. Set up a broadcast emailing package.
If you’ve never emailed in bulk before, you’ll need a software tool to help. Check to see if your donor or constituent database offers blast emailing. If not, don’t resort to everyday email tools like Outlook or Apple Mail. Online broadcast email services let you more effectively format and track emails, and help ensure they reach your supporters’ inboxes.
There’s no shortage of affordable online options for blast emailing. VerticalResponse provides sophisticated functionality, and up to 10,000 free emails per month for nonprofits. ConstantContact is a little less powerful, but a little easier to use, and starts at $5 per month. Most of these tools are quick and easy to purchase online, but plan to dedicate a few hours to learning them and importing your email addresses before you’re good to go.
3. Get set up to take online donations.
There’s a number of ways to accept online donations by credit card. You could simply point potential donors to your organization’s page on Network for Good (www.networkforgood.org), which is automatically created if you’re in Guidestar. Network for Good takes 4.75 percent off the top of any donations you receive, and will send you a check for the rest. Click and Pledge (www.clickandpledge.com) provides another straightforward option that integrates more with your Web site. The firm also takes 4.75 percent off the top.
If you receive a lot of donations, you might want to take a broader look at software after the year end because you can likely find less expensive options , but these are great for the fundraiser in a hurry.
4. Think through your story and strategy.
As with all fund raising techniques, compelling pitches are more successful. Why should people donate to your organization? What specific change w ill their donations support? Consider providing stories or images of specific people you’ve helped, or examples of past projects that were successful. Think very carefully about what’s likely to be most compelling to your supporters.
5. Write the emails.
With your story in mind, plan and write the actual emails you’ll send to potential donors. Email appeals work best as part of a campaign rather than standalone. For example, a first email could describe your request and why it’s important. A second email could serve as a reminder, and provide a story or two to back up your claims. A nd then, a final email on the last day of the year could offer a “Last Chance to Donate in 2008!”
Try to keep emails short and concise, and provide prominent, specifically worded donation links as calls to action. Writing good fund raising emails is more art than science. For a terrific primer, read “The Mercifully Brief, Real World Guide to Raising Thousands (If Not Tens of Thousands) of Dollars with Email,” by Madeline Stanionis.
6. Plan how you’ll track and manage the campaign.
When those donations start pouring in, how will you manage them? For this guerilla campaign, you’ll likely have to manually enter them into your donor management system, or upload them via spreadsheet from the online donation tool. Both are manageable under the circumstances, but you might want to consider other options for a longer-term program. Manual processes tend to be error-prone.
Also, assign the campaign to someone on staff who can troubleshoot problems, answer questions, track progress and make a final call on whether it was all worthwhile.
7. Send out the emails.
With your strategy, tools, copy and tracking system in place, you’re ready to send out the campaign’s first email. Fire away, and see how it goes — and don’t be afraid to tweak your plan or emails if the response suggests revisions are in order.
A campaign put together in two weeks probably won’t compare to one carefully crafted with months of planning and strategizing, but simple campaigns can be surprisingly effective.
If nothing else, you’ve learned a few things, and you can apply that experience and knowledge to next year’s campaign. Because next year, you’re going to start early — right?