The tasks of building an effective campaign, and attracting donors who stay with you, are easier said than done. In fact, they require a sustained commitment of nearly Biblical proportions. Just as the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses offered a proscriptive plan for behavior, I believe charitable marketers can increase their effectiveness by adhering to my Ten Commandments for Inspiring Annual Appeals.

I. Thou shalt create a plan. 

Your plan needs to be written down, and should address:

  • Who is your audience? The more you know about your audience (age, race, gender, household income, etc.), the better you can send potential donors the right messages.
  • What are your goals? You’ll need to track certain metrics (total funds received, number of donors, repeat donors, etc.). Even if you have donor management software, you might need to tweak it, or dedicate staff to track certain data.
  • When will you get the work done? Start early and set up a detailed schedule with responsibilities for all parties. Check it daily and weekly to stay on track.
  • Where will you get funding for the campaign? Never budgeted before? Try looking at what you spent on marketing and fundraising last year. Depending on what skills you have in-house, you might need to spend money on copywriting, photography, design, printing, website development and fulfillment.
  • And finally, Why do you want to raise this money? Every fundraising effort starts with the mission and vision. A strong mission statement answers the basic question of why the organization does what it does.

II. Thou shalt not strive to look like every other charity.

Many charities and faith-based organizations do essentially the same work, so you need to differentiate yourself to make donors understand why they should choose to support you. Identify your unique perspective or value, and then weave it into every touchpoint your donors experience. 

III. Thou shalt speak of thy mission with one tongue.

Make sure your entire staff, volunteers and board of directors describe your organization and its mission in the same way. Every member of your staff should learn this concise statement by heart, and be able to convey it in what’s called an elevator speech. This highly-focused message needs to be simple, compelling and memorable, with an emotional hook — and should take no longer than 30 seconds to say. The same message (or one very much like it) also belongs on your homepage.

IV. Thou shalt honor thy infrastructure.

While each of the following components could be the focus of its own white paper, at a high level, your infrastructure includes:

  • Donor management software: On the lower end are hosted online tools, available for
    a monthly fee. On the high end, some advanced systems can cost well above $10,000. 
  • Mailing list: Having a “clean” list is critical — but getting there is meticulous work. It’s vital to capture data on everyone who interacts with your organization, as well as those you’d like to engage.
  • Creative team: Usually consisting of a designer, photographer, copywriter and printer, team members need to work together with you for best results.
  • Mail house: Any fulfillment company will address, stuff, sort, and send out your direct mail pieces — but a good one will also make suggestions that will save you even more money.

V. Thou shalt use compelling words and design.

In solicitation letters and emails, your stories are what make you unique. Tell an amazing story of one person impacted by your organization. In general, the letter should:

  • Be written at a sixth- or seventh-grade reading level and include a clear call to action.
  • Be addressed to an individual by name and signed by a member of the organization — if possible, someone who knows the individual personally.
  • Include a PS note (sometimes this is all the donor reads).
  • Contain twice as many instances of the word you as I or we.
  • Include the recipient’s correct name and salutation. (I can’t tell you how many letters
    I get addressed to Mr. Terry Graves, not realizing that I’m a woman!)

And don’t forget about the envelope! The envelope has two goals: to reach the right person and be opened. Follow these tips:

  • Consider using an envelope of a different size or color.
  • Personally address each envelope. Of course, if the quantity is too great, you’ll need to imprint the addresses on the envelopes — in any case, avoid using mailing labels.
  • Use a stamp rather than a postal indicia.

VI. Thou shalt not kill direct mail.

Using social media to tell your story saves trees, and is fine for a certain audience demographic.

But sometimes, the old ways work best. A recent study found that 79% of people prefer to read printed material over reading a screen. That said, people are bombarded with junk mail — so you only have moments to pique their interest to open and read your piece. That’s why message, design and readability all matter.

By the way, relying on best practices and intuition doesn’t always work. You should test both your online and print marketing to see what resonates best with the donors. Doing variations in your solicitation letters or direct mail pieces can be done easily with a printer that specializes in digital printing and variable data.

VII. Thou shalt engage in an integrated campaign. 

Use several different mediums, communications or touchpoints to reach your audience.

  • Newsletter: Printed or emailed, single sheet or multi-page, newsletters should include stories (and photos) showing how specific recipients benefitted from the donation.
  • Emails: Millennial (age 18-34) and Generation X (age 35-50) donors are more attuned to engaging and donating online than by direct mail.
  • In-pew solicitation: Place collateral in prominent places throughout the church. The presenter (enthusiastic lay presenters work best) gives step-by-step instructions for filling out the in-pew envelopes, which an usher collects.
  • Porch parties: Invite a small group of current or prospective donors, as well as local clergy, community leaders, elected officials, and board members. Hold a social for about an hour and then have a short program or conversation about your cause. After the event, follow up with thank-you calls.
  • Facebook Business page: Different from a personal Facebook page, use this to post basic information, photos and organization milestones. Remember to monitor and respond to comments on your page, and interact with your “fans” on a regular basis. 
  • Video: For best results, create a plan, establish a budget and schedule, work with experts, test the concept, and then start filming. When finished, post the video on your website and YouTube, show it at events, and display in your reception area.

VIII. Thou shalt make thy website worthy of coveting.

Can visitors easily identify the most significant message on your home page? Every element and word must be spot-on accurate, because you only have a few seconds to convince users to linger. Engage your audience right away with strong content and great visuals. Be careful of outdated news, muddled messaging, blank calendars or dormant blogs.

Plagued by old content? If so, it may be that your site is too difficult to update, and employees are avoiding the chore. A Content Management System (CMS) can make it easy to do updates on a regular basis.

IX. Thou shalt not take the name of thy donation page in vain.

Now let’s drill down into the second-most important page of your website: the donation page. Technologies are rapidly changing, and a website built a few years ago may only display well on desktop computers.

However, according to NP Times, 9.5% of donations come from mobile devices — and that percentage will only continue to grow. Take the time to do an “accessibility audit” of your donation page. Pretend you are a donor, and try to make a gift, first from your desktop computer and then your mobile device. Use what you learn to improve your donation process. Here are tips for success:

  • Make sure your donation page is responsive, so it works well on smartphones. Find a development partner well-versed in the latest Web security tools and protocols, including SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates.
  • Use a well-known and respected payment service, such as PayPal or Stripe, to collect donations on your website.
  • Send your special appeal donors to a donation form that has the same look and feel as the rest of the campaign.
  • Even better, segment your donors by past average gift amounts, and send them to customized donation pages.

X. Thou shalt love thy donor as thyself.

To quote a memorable phrase, there is no other commandment greater than this.

It all begins with listening. Good listening tells donors that you value their support and want to know their opinion. Ask probing, open-ended questions to discover what inspires and motivates them. Here are some strategic questions that you can weave into an informal conversation with donors:

  • What do you like to accomplish with your philanthropy?
  • What are your impressions of our mission?
  • In what ways do you find our case for support inspiring and convincing? How would you make it more compelling?
  • What other organizations do you currently support? Volunteer for? Serve on the board?

Then, listen to the answers. You’ll gain incredibly useful insights into how to approach your donors.

Last but not least, everyone likes to be thanked. Your expressions of gratitude do not have to be big, but definitely must happen in a timely manner, regardless of the contribution size.

If you honor these Ten Commandments, you will have a successful appeal campaign… and reach heavenly results.