3 easy year-end solicitation tips


As you are planning your year-end solicitations, keep these three tips in mind:

  • Use appeal or solicitation codes to track who received your mailing, and who replied.

One of my former bosses summed up her fundraising motto as, “Do. Evaluate. If it doesn’t work, stop.” This is sensible advice, which hinges on the middle step: evaluate. Before we can evaluate, we have to measure. The way to measure solicitation success is to track who received your solicitation, who responded, and how much they gave in response.

Your donor database should have a way for you to track and report on these data points. You’ll probably mark appeal recipients using your reporting/mailing tool. And you’ll code gifts with a specific appeal or solicitation code as you receive them.

If you plan to send multiple mailings, don’t forget to mark each reply device with the correct specific mailing code. If you use the same pre-printed reply devices for all of your mailings, run a different-colored highlighter marker along the bottom edge of the envelopes for each mailing set so you can differentiate between them.

In general, Fundraising Nerd warns against “code proliferation,” but in the case of appeal tracking, the more specific, the better. I recommend using a combination of the fiscal year, the name of the mail piece, and solicitation channel, e.g. 17HOLDM might stand for 2017 Holiday Direct Mail. If you are sending two versions to do A/B testing, by all means, track each using a separate code, e.g. 2017HOLADM and 2017HOLBDM.

Next week, we’ll talk about some ways you can analyze your solicitation success.

  • Match online donors to the last solicitation received.

It is increasingly common for donors to respond to a postal mail solicitation with an online gift. When you receive an online gift, and the impetus is unclear, then go ahead and match the gift to the most recent solicitation the donor received, if it was within the last 60 days. This is not a perfect science, but if you follow a consistent standard, it will be a more accurate look at what prompts giving than leaving the gift untied to any solicitation whatsoever.

When we look at solicitation analysis next week, we’ll include analyzing online donations in response to postal mail.

  • Clean your list one time.

I’ve heard from a lot of busy development officers who end up correcting the same data over and over. It’s an easy mistake to make.

Pressed for time, they export their Excel mailing list from their database, make a ton of corrections to names and addresses, and get the mailing out the door. The next time they do a mailing, they’ve got to do the same process all over again, because in their haste to get the mailing done, they didn’t have a chance to update their database. These tips also apply to email lists.

Do yourself a favor! Clean your mailing list as you go. The very best practice is to identify mistakes on your list, make corrections in your donor database, and then repull your mailing list with clean data. That’s not always practical for a busy fundraiser on the go.

The second-best option is to go ahead and correct your spreadsheet. However, as you make the corrections, be sure to highlight the cells that contain corrected data.

After you are done mail merging and your mailing is in the hands of the postal service (or your email software), revisit your mailing list. Microsoft Excel allows you to sort your list by highlight color, so you can easily arrange the data that needs correction at the top of your list. Make sure those corrections are made in your database.

The other thing to do is to keep track of patterns. As you are making corrections, jot down the issues you are seeing. Are you noticing a lot of inconsistent punctuation, e.g. Dr. vs. Dr? Are there are lot of addresses entered in all lowercase? Were people marked “Do Not Mail” in the address line instead of using your database’s communications preference coding? These all become fodder for database audits, and data entry standards.

Speaking of audits, check out this article from the archives. And if you really want to get your data clean, start learning about appends here.

Best of luck to you. May your solicitations be measurably successful, with a low returned mail or bounce rate!