Making the Ask: How Asheville Habitat Increased Gifts with Emotional, Integrated Fundraising

Just before 5 o’clock on New Year’s Eve last week, I received an email from Kit Rains, Development Director at the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, letting me know that they had an increase in donations after using some tips I gave during a webinar. I love hearing from nonprofits on what works for them (and what doesn’t) so it was a great way to end the year!

I asked Kit, Ariane Kjellquist, the Communications Director, and Communications Coordinator, Greta Bush, to share a little more about the end of the year campaign and how it came about.

Ariane said that traditionally their holiday campaigns were strictly direct mail pieces, but in 2011 they began posting the solicitation to their website and Facebook Page in addition to running an ad for two weeks in their local newspaper. For their 2012 campaign, they stuck to these channels, but added a follow-up email campaign as well.

Using what they learned in the webinar, a little over a week after the direct mail piece landed in mailboxes, they sent a follow-up email to everyone that had also received the mailer. They included the ask again as part of a Thank you/Happy New Year’s email on December 28.

Using the integrated email marketing, the average holiday gift was $50 higher than in past years!

But it wasn’t just about the emails. Kit shares, “Our process included an interdepartmental session to brainstorm what invokes good feelings during the holidays and what would make you open a card during the season.  We tried to make it concise and directive and let the fonts, picture and ‘feeling” work hard for us. ”

Ariane agreed saying, “Typically our name, mission or vision is more clearly communicated on the cover – a house of some sort, or a family or child. We actually did not tie-in a specific homeowner story or quote as we usually do. Our design was simple, appealing and intriguing. Some have said it looked more like a holiday card or a shopping guide than an appeal; which perhaps enticed more people to open it.”

Here is the mailer, and you’ll have to agree, it’s pretty darn cute.

The return envelope had the same picture of the kids baking with the caption, “Home…where memories are made.” They did spend more money on printing than they had in the past, but they all agreed it was worth it. One donor said she put the piece on her mantel with her other holiday cards.

Their email follow-ups used the same imagery and included a button to donate online through their website or share via social media networks.

Ariane also attributes the success of this year’s campaign to their more direct ask. Using the recipe metaphor was a creative way to clearly let the donors know that their support helps families. It’s emotional without being too sappy, but the ask itself (“Make a gift…”) is very easy to understand and follow.

Too many nonprofits are vague or timid when asking for donations and lose their audience quickly using generic words in the ask like help or support. Supporters need to know how to help or support you.

Here are some things your nonprofit can do to have a successful campaign based on the success of the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity:

  • Integrated email marketing. Use all of your communications channels to push the same message. Ariane also shared that the giving for their spring fundraising appeal from last year increased 43% when they sent two e-mails as follow-ups to the mailed piece.
  • Seek more input. Involve staff from various departments in the brainstorming sessions. Having everyone on the same page will make it easier to stay on message.
  • Simple, appealing, intriguing design. The image of three children baking holiday cookies evoked a warm feeling. Use imagery to compel your supporters to want to know what this is all about.
  • More directive ask. In the past, they used a lot of “pleases” and “thank yous,”  but this year they simply said make a gift to help. Don’t be rude, of course, but be straightforward and let supporters know exactly what they can do and how to do it.

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