Winning the Race That Is Your Next Fundraising Campaign

Date Published
Debbie Merlino

Just as you wouldn’t launch into a race without preparation, don’t start your next fundraising campaign without proper planning.

Before you take your first step, ask yourself the following five questions:

    1. Are you running a sprint or a marathon? Are you embarking on a short appeal or a multi-phase campaign? If it’s a multi-phase campaign, think about how you will communicate to donors over the course of your fundraising efforts. Also, how will you build urgency over time? Typically, this is accomplished by setting a dollar goal and a deadline, and then extending the deadline in subsequent efforts.
    2. What does success look like? Are you trying to achieve a personal best in a race you’ve run before, or are you looking to finish a 10k for the very first time? Determine key performance indicators – preferably by audience segment (target response rate, average gift, gross income, net revenue). Set reasonable expectations based on past results.
    3. What’s your training plan? What types of appeals have been most successful in the past? Why? Have you done any offer, creative or list testing? If so, what have you learned? And how can you leverage those learnings for your upcoming campaign?
    4. What’s the course like? If you’re losing more donors than you’re adding to your file, or coming off of a few underperforming campaigns, you may be facing some rocky or uphill terrain. What can you do to boost your performance? Is there an opportunity for a Matching Gift, which is likely to increase the response rate? Have you considered an upfront- or back-end premium, which is also likely to yield a higher response? You can also adjust the ask string with a goal of delivering a higher average gift (likely at a lower response) or vice versa.
    5. Set the pace. What are the key milestones? Who needs to approve copy/design? When are files due? What’s the target mail date? What are the Email deployment dates? Ask the stakeholders how much time they’ll need to turn around their part of the project and build a few extra days into your schedule. Develop a comprehensive campaign schedule, share it with key team members, and keep track of how you’re doing compared to the pace you set for yourself.

If you follow these guidelines and properly prepare for the race that is your next fundraising campaign, you’ll cross the finish line a winner!

Debbie Merlino
About the Author:
Debbie Merlino
President, Agency Services

As President of Agency Services, Debbie is responsible for overall client satisfaction. She works to ensure AFG’s winning strategies are being shared throughout the organization for the benefit of all our clients. Debbie is frequently out on the road sharing insights with others and listening to your challenges so we can develop solutions.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

I get to meet the best people and hear their stories. Hardly anyone says they planned to work in development. Learning how our clients found themselves in this profession and hearing the stories of the people they serve is inspirational.

If you weren’t at AFG, what would you be doing?

Attempting the life of a freelance journalist, working in a bookstore, and/or doing a podcast for my own enjoyment.

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

Making people laugh. It’s thrilling! Especially when done purposefully and I’m on stage ; ) I also enjoy yoga and a well-crafted cocktail.

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