This Saturday is Christmas in July. Santa might not be coming, but there are great sales everywhere and some retailers are even trying to get people thinking ahead to the holiday season which, if you’re a fundraiser, is a really good idea. If you haven’t already begun planning for the end of the year, now is the time to get started.
It’s four months until Giving Tuesday and five months until the close of the fiscal year. When do you want your end of year appeal to hit your constituents’ mailboxes? Here’s how to calculate how much time you need to get ready:
Your Initial Draft—1 Week: Before you begin to circulate it with whomever you are going to share it for feedback, you’ve got to draft it (or hire a copy writer). Either way, you’re going to have to identify a story (content) for the letter. See my earlier blogs on what makes good content for an end of year appeal here and here. If you’re writing, you’ll have to make decisions about how to frame that content and draft it. If you’re hiring someone, you’ll have to identify that person and make an agreement with them, work with them to develop the letter. And if you’re struggling with writing your letter’s P.S., see my blog post on that here or my post on what giving levels to suggest in your letter and on your response card here.
Drafts & Approvals—4-6 Weeks: Who needs to approve your letter and appeal package? How long will it take them to review it and come to agreement about it? Factor in your review time.
Print, Proof & Design—4 Weeks: Are you printing anything at a professional printer’s? Envelopes? Return envelopes? Inserts? The letter itself (or are you mail merging those in-house?). How long will it take your printer to produce the items you’ll need? Are these things already written and designed? Do they need to be? Factor all the production time in. If you’re printing in-house, remember to place your order for ink, paper, labels, and anything else you’ll need.
Prepare Your Mailing List—4 Weeks: Hopefully, you don’t need 4 weeks to prepare your mailing list. If you’ve exercised discipline all year long in taking care of your data, you won’t need to de-duplicate your list, clean your list, or enter any address changes. However, if you’re like most people, you probably have a stack of returned newsletters or invitations from your last mailing that haven’t been entered yet or it has been a while since you’ve checked for duplications. Most CRM databases have pretty good systems for checking for duplications these days—learn to use your duplication checker—it’s a time saver. Most databases also have a way of doing an NCOA update. If your database system doesn’t have these capabilities, there is a good chance that your mail house (if you are using one) does. If you’re without a mail house and without an adequate CRM, don’t despair. These tasks also make great volunteer or intern projects. These tasks can also be done while the mailing is at the printer’s so they don’t add time to the mailing process. This is also the point where you will segment your mailing list to send different versions of the appeal to different sets of constituents.
Mail House (Folding, Stuffing, Labeling)—2 Weeks: How long will your appeal need to be at the mail house to be folded, stuffed and labeled before it will get to the post office? (OR – if you’re not using a mail house, are you folding, stuffing, and labeling letters in-house – how long will it take you to get this done? Do you need to recruit some volunteers to help? Go ahead and ask now! You can re-confirm later).
Mail Time—2-3 Weeks How long will the post office take to get the mail to your constituents? If you’re mailing by Nonprofit Bulk Rate Postage, the post office isn’t obligated to handle your mail immediately. It could take 2-3 weeks for your mail to be processed and delivered. You probably have a sense of how long, on average, your mailings usually take, but give it a little extra time at the holidays because it’s the post office’s busy season.
Total: 13 – 16 weeks.
Don’t panic. It is possible to compress this timeline.
But the process does depend on other people who may or may not be able to move as quickly as you like. The printer could order envelopes which don’t arrive on time or the wrong ones arrive and you have to wait while they are shipped back and new ones arrive. This timeline has extra time built-in, allowing for mistakes and delays. A shorter timeline might be more challenging.
Finally, if you are doing anything “extra” in your appeal, like offering an incentive to give. Now is a great time to line the details of your offer up. Adding a matching gift offer, for example, can be a great way to boost the results of your direct mail appeal. See my earlier post on three things you can do (including offering a matching gift) to boost your end of year results here.
If you are thinking that you’d like to have your direct mail appeal land in people’s mailboxes the week of Thanksgiving, that is 18 weeks away which is means, it’s not too early to get started. As Mark Twain says, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” Christmas in July is a great reminder to go ahead and get started.
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