In the June 1994 issue of Give & Take, we spoke with Captain Roger Murray, USN (Ret), associate director of development and director of planned giving for the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation in Pensacola, Florida. In that article Capt. Murray explained the success the museum experienced as a result of a year-end appeal mailed to their entire membership list of approximately 10,000 persons. How have his year-end mailings fared over the past few years? Give & Take found out in a recent follow-up conversation with Capt. Murray.
Initial efforts prove fruitful
Capt. Murray joined the museum in 1993 with no previous development experience. He discovered that for several years prior to his arrival the museum foundation mailed year-end appeals, so he called on the Sharpe company for assistance. “I contacted Robert F. Sharpe and Company and explained I was a rookie who needed help,” Capt. Murray said.
Sharpe representative Nancy Jeffers assisted Capt. Murray in planning his first year-end mailing that included a cover letter, a Sharpe year-end brochure, a reply card, and a return envelope. “That first year we received almost $40,000 in current gifts,” he said.
Year-end success continues
The foundation’s success with its year-end mailings has not only continued, it has increased each year. “I found that in the past we were putting too much information in our year-end mailing,” Capt. Murray explained. “So we decided to keep it simple.” The “keep it simple” approach worked. “My response rate percentages for the last 3 years have been 6.9%, 8.3%, and 9.4%,” Capt. Murray said. “Our year-end mailing last year brought in $94,000 for the foundation. So, over the last few years our gifts have doubled while our membership has remained basically the same size.”
While the main goal of the museum’s year-end mailing is to encourage current gifts, Capt. Murray is quick to point out that the mailing has also helped him discover donors who are also interested in making planned gifts. As a result of last year’s mailing, he added 12 new members to his planned giving society, plus he found 20 more donors who expressed an interest in planned giving on the response card.
“Quite frankly, I never would have picked these donors out of the computer because there was absolutely nothing in their giving history that indicated they were typical planned giving candidates,” Capt. Murray admitted. “Even though our other more targeted planned giving mailings and articles in our magazine help us identify planned giving prospects, mailing to the whole list once a year has really helped us pinpoint even more people interested in planned giving while generating current revenue in the process!”
Philosophy on the future
With current gifts from year-end appeals growing from $40,000 in 1993 to $94,000 in 1997, and with new planned giving candidates uncovered each year, Capt. Murray intends to continue his year-end gift emphasis in the future. “I have heard a lot of development people saying the time of the year-end mailing may be over, that we may need to abandon it for something else,” Capt. Murray said. “I am not one of those people.” And, based on his results over the past few years, the outlook for year-end 1998 is just as promising.
Tips for a successful year-end mailing
We asked Capt. Roger Murray to give our readers some advice about how to carry out a successful year-end mailing. Here are some of his strategies that may help you as you plan a year-end appeal for your organization:
- “Don’t inundate your donors with too much information in your year-end mailing.” Avoid detailed listings of your grant history, planned giving income, etc. in any single mailing. If your donors are interested in such information, they will ask for your annual report. For a year-end mailing, Capt. Murray says, “Keep it simple, friendly, and informative.”
- “Use your cover letter effectively.” Capt. Murray makes sure his year-end cover letter tells his donors about the museum’s mission in a way that will make them want to be a part of it. For example, after a successful capital campaign for the museum, Capt. Murray made sure his year-end cover letter for that year told donors about how the money raised in the campaign helped build the new IMAX theater and fund its companion movie on naval aviation. Don’t use your cover letter to simply reiterate the information in the brochure on how best to make gifts. Tell your donors about the good work of your organization. Capt. Murray has found that a single-page letter works best. “People don’t want to sort through a lot of ‘junk’ to find your message,” he says.
- “Communicate with your donors throughout the year, not just at year-end.” Keeping in touch with your donors consistently all year long will help your year-end efforts. Capt. Murray recommends adding human interest items, such as donor or volunteer stories, to your communications to create more personal interest in your organization. Avoid making fund raising the sole focus of every mailing you send.