Taking the plunge into e-mail fundraising

By Audrie Krause

Editor's note: I received the following letter -- via e-mail, of course! -- in response to my March 1996 NonProfit Times column on "Raising Money by E-mail." As a real-world case study, it's a fascinating complement to Nick Allen's Special Report on using the Internet on the preceding pages. This article reports on an atypical organization -- one that's unusually well attuned to the Information Age. The group's name? Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. But please don't dismiss this tale out of hand. It won't be all that long before most of your members or donors use e-mail regularly, too! -- M.W.

I'd been planning a dinner to honor two departing members of our Board of Directors, as well as celebrate the organization's fifteenth anniversary. Since our membership and supporters are primarily people who communicate by e-mail, I decided to include e-mail communications in my fundraising strategy.

In early February, we mailed our initial sponsor letters, using the usual route of the U.S. Postal Service. Normally, this would be followed up by personal calls. However, I decided to include an interim step-- sending a followup message by e-mail prior to calling. I also made initial contacts by e-mail with a couple of potential corporate sponsors.

Here's what happened:

Before the actual invitations were mailed, this effort raised approximately $35,000, on a mailing to about 250 potential sponsors.

When the final results were in, the dinner raised in excess of $41,000, drew approximately 200 people, and wound up being the most successful fundraising event in CPSR's 15-year history! Net revenue was over $20,000.

Of course, there have also been some declines by e-mail -- possibly an easy way out. But overall, I think e-mail has been helpful to this fundraising effort.

In addition to adding another contact opportunity between the letter and the followup phone call, e-mail eliminated some of the record-keeping associated with the event, since both the outgoing and incoming messages can easily be stored on the computer. It also helped reduce costs by eliminating the need for some long-distance followup calls.

The dinner sponsor letter was also posted on our Web page and distributed on our general announcement list, and one individual sponsor was added through these electronic channels.

We mailed the general invitation in early May, and I used e-mail and other electronic distribution channels to follow up to that mailing as well.

Since we mailed approximately 1,700 invitations, it was not possible to follow up individually with everyone, either by phone or by e-mail. Before initiating any telephone follow-up, I drafted a personalized follow up message and used the "copy-and-paste" technique to send individual e-mail messages to targeted names from the invitation list. Again, this resulted in some additional commitments to attend, as well as some declines.

As an additional promotional strategy, I arranged to set up a web page for testimonials honoring the two guests of honor at the dinner. My hope was that this would motivate some donations from members outside the immediate Bay Area who would not be able to attend.

Initially, testimonials for this web page were solicited via an e-mail announcement to CPSR's list services. The announcement was also posted on the CPSR web page. Volunteers were recruited to translate the testimonials into Hypertext Markup Language (html) for posting on the web.

Later, I incorporated the testimonial solicitation into my follow up to the invitation mailing. Donors who responded to my e-mail message by indicating that they were too far away to attend the dinner received a brief message inviting them to contribute a testimonial to the web page.

Our organization's experience may not be typical, since our membership is comprised of individuals who have been using e-mail far longer than most people. But it does support your view that e-mail can be a useful enhancement to other ways of communicating with donors.

Citation info:

Fundraising on the Internet
Edited by Nick Allen, Mal Warwick, and Michael Stein
168 pages * $24.95 plus $4.50 postage and handling * ISBN 0-9624891-8-2
Published by Strathmoor Press, 2550 Ninth Street, Suite 1040, Berkeley, CA 94710-2516
Phone: (800) 217-7377 or (510) 843-8888

Author's Note: At the time this article was written I was serving as Executive Director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), a position I left before founding NetAction. The article is published here as part of NetAction's Virtual Activist web site, and should not be construed as a solicitation of support for CPSR. -- A.K.

Back to: Part Four: Membership and Fundraising or The Virtual Activist Reader