7 Nonprofit Holiday Bloopers

My husband and I love going to the movies. Even during the pandemic, we tried to go if the movie theater was open. We were often the only two in the theater. We just love seeing new movies on the big screen.

Instead of rushing out quickly at the end, we usually stay for the credits. Sometimes that’s when you get to see the outtakes or bloopers. They’re so much fun.

Well, as a special Thanksgiving message, I wanted to share some holiday bloopers I’ve seen recently. I typically go through my stack of mail once a week to scan in new ideas or things I particularly like because I learn from what you as fundraisers do at your nonprofits.

But not everything always goes as planned. We all learn from things that go well, but we also learn from things that don’t go so well. Nothing good happens without failing every now and then.

So here are seven holiday fundraising bloopers I saw in my pile last week. To be fair, I’m not going to mention any names. You know who you are.

1. Blank Spaces

In one appeal letter, the ask amounts were completely missing. There was a line to fill it in on the letter itself and boxes without amounts behind them on the reply form.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the reply form was missing the street name (Though the name and address of the donor was complete on the top of the letter). This makes it hard for the data-entry department to process, especially if this is a new donor.

What’s the lesson? Make sure you see live proofs of your data in the letter before it goes in the mail, no matter how late you were in starting the appeal process. Printers and lettershops are extremely busy in October and November, so an extra set of eyes is crucial.

2. Poor Personalization

Several nonprofits sent me a letter with recognition of my monthly gift at the top or in the body of the letter, but still had a request for a monthly gift in the P.S. line.

What’s the lesson? I understand that it’s often hard to remove the monthly giving tick box from the back of a reply form when it’s preprinted, but if you are personalizing the letter on the front and back, you must remove the request for a monthly gift. It does not make the monthly donor feel like you know who they are.  

3. Missed Opportunity for the Ask

One nonprofit included a special buck slip about monthly giving in the letter, but then did not offer the option to sign up anywhere on the reply form.

What’s the lesson? This is a missed opportunity. While many donors are comfortable going online, not everybody wants to. Be sure to offer the monthly giving option on the reply form, especially if you know that it’s aimed at direct mail responsive donors.

4. Design Fail

Handwriting the outside envelope but then using indicia on it. 

What’s the lesson? You’ve totally un-personalized the approach by doing this. Why not take the final step and add a first-class stamp?

5. Scheduling Mishap

A common strategy is to send a reminder to a package, especially if the first appeal is expensive, like a calendar or some other freemium. A reminder, follow-up, or second effort works very well, and it’s usually very cheap to produce and send.

But it’s not great if your reminder hits before the initial appeal comes in the mailbox or if they hit right on top of each other.

What’s the lesson? Check who mails it, when and how (especially if you’re using multiple vendor partners and if you’re commingling your appeals). If your appeals hit at the same time, it gives the donor pause because they feel that you’re wasting money and you’re not optimizing your results.

6. Not Asking for Enough

Year-end is a great time to mail your monthly donors, especially if you have a match or another great way to involve your monthly donors. But, if you’re asking for an extra gift that equals approximately the donor’s monthly gift amount, it’s too low. For example, one nonprofit to which I donate $5 a month asked for an extra gift of $6, $7, $8, or “other.”

What’s the lesson? I recommend leaving the amount blank instead so the donor can fill in what they’re comfortable with. You’ll raise more money that way.

By the way, what this organization did well was to recognize me throughout the appeal as a monthly donor. Several other organizations didn’t even do that, and it’s so easy to do with a simple laser variation or short message on the top of the letter.

7. Not Asking for a Monthly Gift at All

Several large organizations did not give me the option to make a monthly gift at all. It would have taken up just a small amount of space to add a tick box on the front and the monthly option on the back.

What’s the lesson? This is another missed opportunity as it’s part of planting the seeds for monthly giving, which is so critical.

Bonus: Thanks

I’ve not yet seen this one, but it is undoubtedly going to happen as I just sent a bunch of donations over the weekend. Your bonus blooper is not sending a hard copy thank-you letter to gifts received during this time of year. Remember, direct mail donors want to get a thank-you letter they can hold and save. 

I’m sure none of these bloopers will happen to you. Thank you for all you do.