It may be hot and steaming outside, but it is only 16 weeks until Thanksgiving, November 23, 2017. Thanksgiving weekend is when a significant amount of people make their end of the year giving decisions. Which means they need to have your annual appeal in their hands, or your nonprofit might get left out. Past experience has taught me to plan far in advance, starting the appeal collateral production process at least 10 weeks out, to meet this important deadline. Let me explain by working the time frame process backwards.
Let’s break it down:
A bulk mail can take 7-10 days to be processed at the post office. To get that piece of mail into the potential donor’s hands before November 22 (Wednesday before Thanksgiving), you need to get your mail trays to the post office mail before November 13.
Do you use volunteers to fold and label and to save money? Better work in a couple days for volunteer labor. This is probably your biggest mailing piece of the year, so you are going to need lots of hands on deck. Many hands make for light work is my mantra. One organization I worked for used the local church ladies’ circles, but they only worked on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My volunteer labor needs had to accommodate their Wednesday mahjong and Friday tennis schedules. Or does your printing company handle the folding, stuffing and labeling? Lucky you! But still build in a couple days to get that tasked finished.
Speaking of printers, they need production time of at least couple days turnaround time for the project’s actual printing. My printer, after receiving my files, always made a mock up that needed to get final approval of an okay to print. What if that email proof arrives in your inbox late in the afternoon, when you were out making a donor visit, or your Executive Director is out on vacation? Whose final okay is needed? Better build in an extra day for this type of contingency. What if the proof came out all wrong? And there needs to be a correction? Oh my! Better build in another day to your time frame. And of course, the printer is closed on weekends.
Your time frame in now worked backwards into October.
Is your piece created in house? If you are a small shop, probably. If you are lucky you have a PR Firm who creates content. A seemly easy two-page letter of request content may go through a dozen revisions (over two or three weeks). The program director may want to substitute the statistic, or the ED changes her mind on the levels of giving included in the ask. I also suggest handing the “final draft” to someone who has never seen previous versions, to get a once over for typos.
Is your layout person in house or external? Are you using a volunteer Creative Suites expert? Add in another two to three days for delays.
Are you including a response envelope? Make it easy for donors to give by including an envelope for them to send in their checks. Is your response envelope up to date? Does it need revisions? Anticipate another delay. What? You don’t have one? Create one. Any other collateral material? Will you be adding a program insert? Add another week to production time.
Your new board chair has mandated a cost control policy of requiring at least two quotes for all outsourced expenses. Add another couple of days to get quotes back.
What about the story? A client story of impact is the best way to get across your mission. You will want to add at least one picture, which may mean you need to make arrangements for a photo shoot.
It’s now September. What about the database? Who will you be mailing this appeal to? How clean is your database? Have you made sure to keep it updated? How far back in time will you go? Three years? Five years? Are you going to purchase mailing lists to acquire new donors? Will you be doing an A/B test? An A/B test is where you do two separate mailings with two different messaging to see which message or delivery method is most effective. Will you be doing a separate appeal to major donors? Your answers can impact the messaging and or scope of the project.
Gather your team together for a concept design session to decide which program or outcome this appeal will focus. Decide what will best represent your mission. Having the right direction will make the process go a lot smoother.
Overwhelmed? Don’t be, call me. I can help.