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Now that June 30 is over and charities are tallying up their results, it’s time to debrief.

Were you well over target, right on or did you raise less than you hoped? Whatever the case, it’s crucial to debrief on why you got the result you did.

So, what if you didn’t reach your appeal goal? Try to resist the urge to blame others. It’s time to take a closer look at what went wrong – and apply those learnings to future campaigns. An appeal is really only a complete failure if you refuse to learn from your mistakes.

If you did well, it’s tempting to celebrate and not analyse your results. After all, you hit your goal. But it’s crucial to figure out why the appeal went well – and again apply learnings in future or tweak them so you can do even better.

As one client said to me, “Our part on the campaign did really well so we’ve proved the value of our department.”

Another jokingly said, “If it did badly, I was going to blame the staff member that left. Since it did so well, I’m going to take all the credit!”

Jokes aside, I know both clients are now going through debriefing. Even though they were happy with their results, they’re committed to doing even better.

Here are 9 things to analyse post-appeal:

1. Look at income, no. of gifts, response rate and average gift not just overall but by different segments. Who gave more or less? Did extra effort on a particular group pay off?

2. Did you mail fewer donors? Then your average gift should be higher (assuming you mailed your most loyal donors).

If not, was this because more smaller givers donated? This is probably good. Or was it because the same number of donors just gave less? This may or may not be a problem. Or was it because fewer donors gave you fewer dollars? This is most likely a retention issue!

3. Did you mail more lapsed donors? If so, did the revenue they brought in justify the extra cost?

4. How many people who gave during last year’s tax appeal gave again this year? If lots of last year’s donors did not give again, why is this? Have they already given to other appeals during the year? If not, investigate why.

5. Did this year’s offer resonate with your donors? Was it too complicated for them to understand? Not specific enough? Or too removed from what your donors expect?

Do not underestimate the importance of the offer. If you asked donors to give to starving children last year and then asked them to support vocational training for disadvantaged men over 45 this year, do not be surprised if your appeal did not do so well.

If you reframed your offer so it was easier to understand or were able to offer a matching gift, you probably got better results. How can you replicate or tweak this for future mailings?

6. What channels do your donors prefer giving through? Are more people giving online? Or are your donors stubbornly clinging (er, I mean devoted) to returning those mail coupons? With cash in the envelope?

7. What’s your donor’s giving experience like? If people are giving online, is it through a desktop, mobile phone or tablet? Is your website optimised for mobile devices? Should you invest in making these more user-friendly? What sorts of confirmation messages do donors receive after giving?

If people prefer to ring up and donate, do they get a friendly, helpful person within several seconds? Or do they get put on hold for 5 minutes? Or worse, have to go through an automated system?! “Press 3 to disconnect and ring up another charity who gives me a real person to talk to…”

8. If you did testing, what were the results of those tests? How will you apply those findings in future appeals? Or were the results inconclusive? Do you need to run another test or move onto testing something that may make more of a difference?

It’s surprising how many organisations conduct testing but don’t analyse the outcomes. Or even ignore the results and continue to “go with their gut”.

9. Finally, was your creative well-executed? Was the direct mail or advertising copy written in the right style for your donors? Did you use emotive stories that struck the right chord? Did a certain turn of phrase or a particular image really get the gifts coming in? Was the graphic design appropriate for the audience?

Did you meet your deadlines or did some elements go out too late? Did “approval by committee” destroy a great creative or did donors love the concept?


You’ll notice I left the creative till last. That was deliberate. Because if you can get the right answers to the questions about your donors, the creative should take care of itself. (Although I’m not saying the creative isn’t a lot of work – it is.)

But what if your appeal did badly and you can’t pinpoint the answers to these questions easily? Then maybe it’s time to talk to some donors.

But don’t ask them what they thought about the creative. If you do that, they’ll complain about how they receive too much mail. Or that you shouldn’t be spending money on advertising.

Instead, go back to basics of knowing your donor. Ask them why they support your cause. What they like about your work. What types of projects they like giving to.

Take note of what language they use. Whether they talk about relevant personal experiences. In fact, everything they say about their everyday lives is important.

This will give you more information to reframe your next appeal. Even if you think you know this stuff, sometimes you need a refresher.

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