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December 18, 2014 | 26th Kislev 5775

Direct Mail for your Synagogue's High Holy Days Appeal
Description, resources and Q&A

The webinar addressed how to run a direct mail campaign for a High Holy Day appeal. The presenters discussed the steps necessary in order to run an effective campaign as well as to create an effective letter. This webinar was designed for finance/fund raising committee members, board members, presidents, executive directors or those synagogue members interested in or responsible for raising funds through a High Holy Day Appeal at their synagogue.

The webinar was being presented by Tiffany Neil and Amy Sukol from the direct mail firm of Lautman Maska & Neil. Tiffany and Amy have both received the designation as "Certified Fund Raising Executives" from the international organization of Fund Raising Professionals. They have extensive experience working with not for profit organizations in the area of direct mail campaigns.

Resources:
 
For further information, contact Rob Berkovitz at rberkovitz@urj.org, or at 212-650-4061.
 
Q: I'm in a 60 member congregation.  We don’t have a “synagogue office” and all our work is done by volunteers.  How does/will the material [presented in the webinar] apply to a small congregation? 
 
Every congregation – regardless of size – can send a warm letter to members asking them to make a special gift around the time of the High Holy Days.   You could, for example, send it on the personal letterhead of the President and talk about the need for gifts.  Return contributions could go to the Treasurer.  The same principles of letter writing apply regardless of how many letters will be sent.   

The reply form can be very simple – you can ask everyone for the same amount of money.  This will help with the ease of getting it out.

Q:  Is there an effective way to [use the principles of direct mail] online? How should we be using the internet and other technology in reaching out during an appeal?

 
One excellent way to use the internet is to support the mailing you are preparing for the High Holy Days. If you have a website, you can have a button on the home page that says “read more about …” and “donate now.”  On the web, you can include photos and more detail to support the story you are telling in the letter – things that are hard to do in a fundraising letter.   
 

If you have email addresses for the members to whom you will be sending the High Holy Day appeal, you should send them an email a few days after you send the mailing.  The email should contain the same basic “case for support” that the letter has – but try to keep the email message to 150 words or fewer.  Then, there can be a “donate now” button in the email that links to the website.  There are many inexpensive companies that can send email for you, or if there are not too many addresses you can send it from your own email server.

 

 Q: What are your thoughts about whether or not to send direct mail to donors who we have [identified] as potential big donors – folks who we want to “woo” face to face? Is there a risk in sending them direct mail?  
 
As long as the message is consistent with what they have been asked to support previously, there is no harm in sending a mailing.  If you are going to solicit someone for a capital gift or other “special” contribution, you may not want to send them the general annual support letter as it may complicate “the ask.”  Otherwise, as long as you are asking for an appropriate amount of money, it can support your efforts.  You can even personalize the letters to these donors by pulling them out and handwriting a note on the top that says “I’d love to find time to talk to you in person about this” and then provide a phone number.  We strongly recommend that you call all “major” donors to follow up on the mailing – either to say “thank you” if they made a contribution, or to request a meeting.  
 
Q: For years, our president has asked for funds through a High Holy Day appeal on Kol Nidre. We have never done direct mail for this purpose before. Given the economy, do you think this is a good time to use direct mail, even considering dropping the "ask" on Kol Nidre? What about follow-up?  

 

In some ways, it is more important than ever to ensure that your cause remains “front of mind” with donors.  You can use the mail to support the message that is made during Kol Nidre to give people another way to support you.  Reference in the letter that this is a request the member usually receives during Kol Nidre.  It all supports the synagogue and your core needs so the messages can reinforce one another.  Remember, every other group will be asking your members for support around this time – you want to make sure you are with them.

 

Q: When should the High Holy Days letter go out in the mail?
 
If you are mailing mostly donors, we recommend mailing 4-5 weeks before Rosh Hashanah.  If you are mailing mostly non-donors (or if this is your first appeal ever) you can mail closer to the holiday so there is less competition to get the attention of people. 
 
Q: What is a good strategy to maximize the gift?  How do you get someone to send in $1000 rather than $100?  For a major, annual campaign shouldn't you have personal contact?
 
The best strategy to maximize the gift is to make sure you make it very easy to say “yes” and the best way to do that is to ask them for a gift they are comfortable making, and then give them the chance to give more.  Ideally, the amount you ask for should be based on their last gift.  If a person gave $100 last, you should ask for $100, $150 or $200 – ideally, it’s so easy for them to say “yes” to $100 that they will upgrade to $150.   As far as having personal contact – it is a great thing whenever possible.  We recommend following up letters with a personal phone call to major donors and handwriting a note on their letter (something like “I’ll give you a call to talk more about this”).  In some cases, a donor may prefer to write a check and not meet, but if the gift is not what you wanted, you can call and say “thank you” and schedule a time to sit down.   
 
Q: Most members already receive quarterly statements from us throughout the year.  [Given that, we see] two possible approaches to Direct Mail: 
  1. Additional mailings (with the increased expenses and additional request for attention, but keeping messages distinct)
  2. Include the appeal with a statement mailing (saving postage and asking for a gift when they are already making a payment).  

What are the pros and cons and what should be done differently if the appeal is mailed with a membership statement?

Appeal mailings are most effective when there is just one “ask” in the package.  For that reason, we don’t recommend sending it along with a membership dues billing request.  People can easily say “yes” to the dues request and ignore the 2nd ask.  With a separate mailing, you can clearly make the case for the special contribution. 

Q: Is there a role for a personal handwritten note in each ask or on "major" asks?

YES!  A handwritten note (or even a handwritten envelope) can go a long way to getting a large gift.  Depending on how many letters you are sending (and what resources you have available) we recommend using this technique on as many pieces as possible.  Start with the largest donors and work your way down until you run out of energy (or volunteers!)

Q: What is the best way to integrate a phone-a-thon with a direct mail campaign?  Do you use the same case studies or key words or just the same themes?

 

We recommend that you send the mailing first, give people about two weeks to respond and then start calling people. We recommend calling everyone whom you mailed – say “thank you” to the people who made a gift (and see if they have any questions), and using the same basic case in the letter, appeal to the people who have not made a gift yet.  The script should be fairly short, so you may not have time to go through the whole story that was in the letter, but you can pick up the same theme.  For example, if the letter talks about someone who went to classes at the synagogue, the phone script can talk about these classes in general.

Q: Could the [direct mail/campaign] letter come from the rabbi?

Yes.  Consider the culture of your synagogue.  Would there be more impact if the letter comes from the rabbi or from the synagogue president?  You might also consider having the letter come from the chairperson of the campaign.  Think about how the person signing the letter will impact the reader.  Who in the congregation will have the biggest impact on the potential donor’s decision?

Q: Should we remind [donors] of how much they gave in last year's appeal and ask them to give more this year?

Subtly.  What we recommend doing is including the amount they gave last year as the least amount you request and then request larger gifts.  There are mixed testing results about saying specifically “last year you gave $xx” so what we recommend is saying “your gift of $LAST, $LAST * 1.5 or $Last * 2 would really help.”  On the reply form, always give people the ability to give “other” – many people will give you more.   All that said, this is a good year to try to get any gift.  It may be a challenge to get larger gifts in this economy.

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