Summer Project Time – Clean Up and Organize Your Mailing Lists

It’s summer!  You might not be thinking about your fall annual appeal when it’s 90+ degrees, but you should be.  Fall will be here before you know it.

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to give you some ideas of ways to get ready for your annual appeal and other projects you can do over the summer when it may not be as busy.

A good project to start with is to clean up and organize your mailing lists (regular mail and email).

Add, edit, and delete
Do you have a bunch of address change requests or bounced email addresses?  Now is a good time to take care of those.

Also, check for misspelled or incorrect names and addresses.  I’m often addressed as Anne rather than Ann.  You won’t make a good first impression if you get your donor’s name wrong or there is a typo in the address.

Handle with care
Data entry is boring, but is something you need to take seriously, and make sure it’s done with care to avoid any misspellings,etc.  Often the person who does your data entry (volunteers?) may not know your donors as well.  If that’s the case, have your development director, executive director, or any board members who interact with donors look over your lists.  Tedious, yes, but important.

If a donor ever lets you know his or her name is incorrect, apologize and fix it right away.

Get personal
Add any personal bits of information about your donors to your database.  This could include attending an event or meeting with a board member.  You’ll need this when you personalize your letters (see below) and add a short handwritten note on each one.

Segment your lists
Divide your lists by current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, other supporters (e.g. people who subscribe to your email list but aren’t donors), event attendees, volunteers, etc.  

You want to personalize your letters according to donor group.  You are going to have the most success with current donors, provided that you have been showing gratitude and sharing accomplishments throughout the year.

Donor retention rates have been pretty dismal lately, and the biggest attrition comes between the first and second donation.  You may also want to create a list of first time donors.  I’m going to write a separate post about doing something special for your first time donors, such as sending a thank you postcard or email to help ensure they will donate again.

Here is some more information on segmenting your lists. Are you ready to segment?
You’ll also want to invest in a good database and email service provider to make this easier for you. Remember, Excel Is Not A Donor Database 

Go multi-channel
You’ll have more success in your annual appeal campaign if you can communicate with your donors through more than one channel.

When going through your lists, you may discover you have mailing addresses for some donors, but no email addresses or vice versa.  Here you need write or email your donors to get that information.  They may not give it to you, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

You can also email your donors to invite them to follow you on social media and post something on social media inviting folks to sign up for your email list.

Personalization makes a difference
Yes, all of this will take time, which is why you should start thinking about it now and not at the end of October.

You want to get your donors’ names right and make sure there aren’t any typos in their addresses.  Also, the more you are able to personalize their annual appeal letters, the more successful you will be.

Photo by U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv via Flickr

2 thoughts on “Summer Project Time – Clean Up and Organize Your Mailing Lists

  1. Thanks for posting. I have found the summer to be the best time for planning and organizing prior to my fall appeals. And, a great place to start is with your donor database. If you're using Excel to manage your data, you'll never be able to put Ann's ideas into practice! Donor management systems don't need to be pricey or cumbersome. Systems like Little Green Light ( and others are web-based, are made especially to meet the needs nonprofits, especially those with small development staff. For a good review of low cost donor management systems see Idealware's 2011 report: An updated report is due out in October 2013.


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