Renewing Donors Around Tax Cycles

Posted on 10/01/2017

Fundraising is full of uncertainty. You never know how an event will go over, an appeal will perform, or a donor will respond to your request for support. You also never know how current events will impact your efforts. News and economics, unfortunately, have a lot more to do with the success of campaigns than most presidents and boards will let their advancement staff admit.

Rather than focus on what you don’t know, try to focus on what you do know. For example, you know that donors have a life of their own with demands that have nothing to do with your institution. Their seasonal calendars and daily schedules are determined by the birthdays and anniversaries of their loved ones, friends, and colleagues, and the events and holidays of their professions, cultures, and faiths. Getting in sync with the cycles of your donors (rather than those of your institution or yourself) is important – especially in annual giving.

Ben Franklin famously said that there are only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes. That’s why The University of Central Florida (UCF) developed a donor renewal campaign that capitalizes on the fact that donors are used to receiving tax-related documents shortly after the new year. Called the “Tax Statement Appeal,” it’s a direct mail piece designed to look like a tax receipt, and it goes out at the beginning of tax season. Although not an official document, the statement is sent to anyone who donated in the prior calendar year and contains the total amount the recipient gave in the past 12 months.

It’s very basic in terms of concept and design – with a simple tear-off reply device on a standard 8.5” x 11” sheet – but it has one of the highest returns of all of their annual appeals. Using low-cost window envelopes and mailing it at a non-profit postage rate, UCF is able to keep the cost down to around 40 cents per piece. An email follow-up goes out to those who have yet to respond two weeks after the mailer was due for arrival, referencing the form and delivering a second call to action.

The piece is tagged with a unique appeal code that makes it possible to record each reply and track performance in their database. Last year, this mailing brought in 334 gifts at a 5.3% response rate with total contributions over $33,000. A typical renewal appeal for the university nets between $5,000 and $12,000. Based on the results, it only cost them only about 6 cents to raise 1 dollar.

While the primary purpose of the tax statement is to acknowledge and thank past donors, it also serves as a soft way to renew and win back support. By syncing their efforts with their donors’ schedules, UCF helps ensure that the university’s needs and priorities don’t get lost when donors are otherwise focused on other things. And because it goes out halfway through their annual campaign, it reduces the uncertainty that often comes later when so many annual giving teams are scrambling to find donors and dollars before the end of the fiscal year.

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