On a + note

Direct Ask 101: Part 2

Posted in on a + note by flickfancy on May 5, 2014

kittymay5So, how do you begin a Direct Ask fundraising program at your library?

►Talk to the management staff and board; you definitely need their support and help for a 3-year trial.

Register as a charity so the library can issue tax receipts. This will take a few months.

►Set goals. The GPL five year goal is to annually raise $10,000 from the Direct Ask Program to support the new Main Library furnishings, fixtures, and equipment.

The majority of people donate to their charity of choice in November/December – it is the giving season in North America. If you miss the November 1st mailing date, you have lost the window of opportunity. Don’t underestimate the importance of this deadline. So practically, you need to begin working on your donor list and Ask Letter now, in May/June for a November release. On average, it is a 6-8 month process from start to finish.

►Set aside 1-2 months to build an address list of donors. This is an ongoing process, but as the list gets better over time, so will donations.

►Plan 1-2 months to write a successful Ask Letter…yup…the attached 2013-14 GPL letter went through 4 edits with loads of help from the board and staff!

►Allow 1 months to print, personalize, stuff, address and mail 1,000 letters

What have we learned at GPL after two years?

The Direct Ask Letter:

● Write a great letter. This sounds easy but, writing a persuasive letter that is going to encourage folks to donate is challenging. Attached is a copy of GPL’S 2013-14 ask letter…so you get the idea.

● Donors like to give in a wide variety of ways. For example 75% donate by cheque, 20% donate on- line (GPL uses Canada Helps ) and 5% donate using other methods: i.e. cash, stocks….

● A stamped, self-addressed reply envelope is really important. Yes, it does increase your cost, but it is totally worth it. At least 75% of donations are returned using the enclosed, stamped envelope.

● Who should sign the Ask Letter, is a question I’m often asked. It should be either the Board Chair or the CEO. But here is the secret; each letter needs to be individually signed with a PS whenever possible to personalize the message. This is time consuming, but you will significantly improve your return rate if you do this. Honestly!

● How many letters should the library send? In a community of 30,000 – 60,000 residents, one persuasive letter to 300 well-chosen donors, with the interest and capacity to give, is a great test.

The Donor List:

● Keep scrupulous records about donors:
– Who gave and how much
– Test a new “demographic” each year i.e. a wealthy senior community, library vendors or book club members
– Be sure and remove the 1% who do not want to be asked again

Other Considerations:

►A successful Ask campaign requires a team including: the letter writer, editors and designer, the board to promote the program, staff to build and maintain the address list, the CEO/board chair to add personal notes to letters, staff/volunteers to collate, fold, seal, and mail letters, plus folks to prepare tax receipts and thank donors.

►If your library has a volunteer program this is a great project for volunteers to work on. Collating, stamping, folding, and stuffing takes time!

►There are several software programs that can assist in building and maintaining a donor list. However, after testing a few, GPL keeps a simple excel spreadsheet.

►How are you going to handle the donations when they arrive? This process needs to be carefully thought through. At GPL, the Development Officer logs each donation and generates thank you letters, the Finance Department organizes the charitable receipts, and within five working days the thank you and receipt is in the mail. Donors want to know the library received the donation and they want the tax receipt to complete their tax return. So time is of the essence.

►Stay in touch with donors over the year. Do not ask them for another donation, but share with them what’s happening at the library. This is a delicate balance between staying in touch and bothering folks.

►A successful Ask program is not “other duties as assigned”. To begin, it needs to be part of the library strategic plan, plus have a designated leader to implement and assess the ROI.

►Library board members and senior management need to take a leadership role and ideally be early donors. It is not the amount that is donated; it is their support that is crucial.

By the numbers this is our track record so far:

  2013-14 2012-13
Letters mailed 1,039 1,279
Number of donations 55 30
Total Donations $6,566 $5,515
Average donation $25 $10
Response rate 5.29 % 2.11 %
Repeat donors 60%
Total cost of campaign $1,404.32 $2,000.55
For every $ spent, the campaign raised $4.68 $2.76

Our assessment of the GPL Direct Ask Campaign after two years is that it is working:

●the cost of the campaign is declining as revenue increases

●the response and donation rates are increasing

●it is building us friends and opening up doors in the community


Developing a direct ask program is not easy work, but for GPL we are learning and over time embracing ejoying the adventure.

Kitty Pope                                                                                                   # 18 May 2014


ask letter

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