Why You Should Follow Up Your Fundraising Letters with Email

You work so hard on writing the ideal fundraising appeal letters. At last, it’s printed and folded, stamped and addressed, and sent on its way. You breathe a sigh of relief. Then, you worry.

How can you be sure the donor will pay attention to your letter? Will he or she respond with a gift?

You do have some reasons to worry. Just look in your mailbox. How many organizations have sent you an appeal? In just one week in mid-November, twenty letters asking for money arrived in my mailbox…and the pace is only going to pick up as we reach December!

But you don’t have to just sit and wait. There are things you can do now to make the donor pick that envelope out of the pile, read your letter, and donate online (or send in a check). One of them is to follow up your fundraising letter with email.

How Email Can Bring More Donations

If you have built your list well, sending email is a great way to move donors to give. Here’s why.

  1. They’ve agreed to join your list. You got their permission before you added them to your list, and if they ever ask to be removed, you took them off, right away. That means that the people who remain on the list actively want to hear from you!
  2. They’ve received something valuable from you by email. It might be information they can’t get anywhere else—or stories that warm their hearts—or photos that make their day. Whatever it was, you have trained them to expect that when they open your email, they’ll find something worthwhile. As John Haydon says, “Make sure your strategy is about giving subscribers value first, and asking for favors second.”
  3. They can easily give online just by clicking a link in your email message. And the easier you can make it, the more likely your donors are to give.

How to Set Up an Email Series

A very large, very rich organization can mail the same donors repeatedly. But you are a no-nonsense nonprofit. You don’t waste your time and money on what doesn’t work…but you’re willing to go the extra mile to raise more money for your mission.

You can send a series of emails for almost the same cost as sending just one, and it will be more effective.

Donna Mehr at Smart Annual Giving gives us a good step-by-step guide to following up by email.

Step 1: Create segments. From your year-end appeal mailing list, segment out:

  1. donors who have at some point given you their email addresses AND
  2. have not yet made their year-end gift.

Step 2: Create a timeline. Think about sending email a week after your appeal letter arrives at the donor’s address–and then again December 31. Follow up with a thank-you email in early January.

Step 3: Craft each message. Your email should touch on the same themes as your appeal letter, but much more briefly! Don’t think, “Oh, it’s only email.” Think “I have to share my best stuff right away—even in the subject line—to make sure the donors will read it.”

Step 4: Test your message on some valued supporters. They will help you improve it, and they’ll be more likely to give because you asked their advice.

Step 5: Send. If you’re using an email marketing tool like MailChimp or Constant Contact, you can easily set up the series in advance. If you can, modify the list so the people who gave in early December aren’t still getting pleas to give on New Year’s Eve.

Step 6: Track your results. Donna Mehr’s advice is particularly valuable here:

  1. Record the number of donors who opened your email.
  2. Record the number of donors who clicked through to your website/ donations page.
  3. Of those who clicked through your email, who actually made a gift?
  4. Which donors made a gift without clicking through the email to your donations page?  For instance, a donor still wrote a check, even though your email may have prompted their gift.

Try following up your appeal with email this year, and find out how much it improves your fundraising!

John Haydon