“Postal Service warns states might miss mail-in ballot deadlines!!” The headlines are everywhere about the challenges with the delivery of mail by the postal service. But what we have not yet seen are headlines bemoaning the impact on non-profit bulk mailing, often the backbone of our annual giving program.
This year we are more dependent than ever on our annual giving program or annual fund. With Covid 19 requiring many modifications in how we carry out our mission—all of them costing money!—the strain on operations is clear. Add in the economic uncertainty, unrest over racial inequality, and a hotly contested Presidential race and the stress on our institutions and on our annual giving programs is exponential. And now the challenges facing the U.S. Postal Service threaten the bedrock of many annual giving programs: direct mail.
When most of us begin to plan for a new fiscal year program of annual giving, we start with “What dates will we send direct mail letters?” “What will be the topic?” “Who is the audience for each of our pieces?” Then we feather in the phone calls and face-to-face (or video-to-video) solicitations. Our thinking seems to be that direct mail reaches the most people, we can get a quick start on our fundraising and some people will give no matter how we reach out to them, so let’s get going. The immediate solution to a US mail problem is to say, “Thank goodness we have email, we can pivot to that, at least for those who have email addresses.”
I would argue that this is exactly the wrong way to go about planning for annual giving. We know when we talk about major gifts that the most successful way to raise money is one on one conversations, preferably in person. And yet we use those methods as clean-up activities instead of primary solicitations for annual giving. This year meaningful conversations with donors at all levels are going to be necessary to discuss the impact of crisis after crisis on our institution. Because while every institution is feeling it to some degree, not every institution is affected in the same ways. We need to let our donors know what we are doing differently and why. Even if what we did was ultimately not as successful as we hoped, we still tried, and we still invested in that strategy.
Let’s use the crisis with the US Postal Service as the catalyst to revamp our annual giving programs to push more phone calls and more deep conversations about the importance of our annual giving program. It is not just about participation. It is about building meaningful, supportive relationships with our constituents and engaging them into our mission. Relationships don’t come in the mail.