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Pledge Program Management: Technology is your friend!

Posted By Charles Fraga on 9/3/14, 9:21 AM

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Happy New Year!  Many non-profits operate (at least psychologically) within the “academic year” framework, even if they are not academic institutions.  The real-time flow of life centered around “summer lifestyle realities” has become a staple for fundraisers’ strategizing.  Hardly anyone wants to do much mailing or other major communications with constituents during the busy, vacation-laden, and distracting summer months.  So, with Labor Day behind us, Happy New Year!

I emphasized in last week’s blog the multiple advantages of including pledges as an ever-present option on response devices in donor solicitations.  I also addressed the unfortunate specter of FEAR that often accompanies the technology that might be required to manage the fulfillment aspects of a well-run pledge program.  Development professionals (and their staffs) need to overcome any such lingering fears.  As you do so, you will quickly discover how much technology is your friend!

Use Technology to Your Advantage:  4 keys to setting up a pledge program (plus a helpful hint):

1 - Let your software do the heavy lifting!  The process really begins and ends with your non-profit donor-management software. If you have not already implemented such a program, it behooves you to do so. The advantages that such software confers on promo campaigns (selecting which of your donors should receive an "ask" or possibly even which ask they should receive) also make it indispensable for pledge fulfillment. In addition to keeping track of the giving record of your donors (what I prefer to call the “frequency, decency, and recency” of a donor’s actual gifts), these programs allow you to create custom queries so that you can identify precise segments of your overall donor pool. Such segmentation capabilities are critical to overall fundraising success and simply cannot be underestimated.

In addition to donor-management software with gift-processing capability, spreadsheet and word-processing software are essential. Spreadsheet reports exported from the donor-management software facilitate the manipulation of donor data (usually by mailhouse vendors per your instructions). Word-processing software, when used in conjunction with spreadsheets, allows for the production of various to-be-mailed documents containing information that is specific to a particular recipient. Most donor-management software products include basic data-export features, but the exported data is often in need of even more precise fine-tuning which can easily be accomplished in the spreadsheet (or another database application) prior to mail-merge personalization by your mailhouse. Put another way: there's more to mail-merging than meets the eye!

2 - Consider a re-design of your materials, avoiding “one size fits all.”  The following "flow" applies to any mailing component within a pledge program (promos, fulfillment packages, or balance reminders):
Donor-management software → Spreadsheet + Word-processing program → Mail-merge document → Reply device → Processing of pledge/gift → Donor-management software

However, this does not mean that identical materials need to be or should be used for every type of mailing.  On the contrary, it is generally better to design mailing materials with the specifics of a particular type of mailing purpose in mind (ask, fulfill, or remind). [Note:  It is generally wise to maintain the same look/feel across materials with different purposes even though the precise size/shape/functionality of each piece is unique.] Using this approach, you might end up with several different kinds of mailing packages, each of which may incorporate different combinations of the following materials:

  • Letterhead
  • Letter/reply forms (8½ x 14 forms that can be lasered simultaneously and the reply section of the form drop cut in the mail insertion process.
  • Customized coupon sheets
  • Regular or Window envelopes, BREs or CREs
  • Peel-off labels with your return address on them to be used by pledgers for return gifts
  • Ancillary supporting materials (brochures, buck slips, bookmarks, etc.)
If you refrain from a “one size fits all” approach, it will be easier for your recipients to determine what you are asking them to do, and it will be easier for you to capture critical information from their replies and update your database. Consider the following examples of mail packages with specific purposes:

Example 1 (Pledge/Gift Promo Package):  8½ x 14 personalized letter/reply form (mailhouse drop cuts reply portion) + BRE or CRE (+ possible ancillary materials)

  • No need to match two separate personalized items in the mailing process (drop-cut processing is less cumbersome than matching)
  • Reply piece pre-personalized just like letter, no fill-in needed or separate processing and matching of reply device

Example 2 (Pledge Fulfillment Package):   8½ x 11 personalized letter + X number of personalized pledge payment coupons on pre-designed sheet-fed forms (not coupon “booklets”) + peel-and-stick reply-address labels

  • Multiple possible replies to a single non-profit mailing (without necessary reminders)
  • No BREs or CREs required
  • Donor supplies pledge payment reply envelope and postage
  • Balance reminders only required for “lapsing” pledgers as needed
Although this variegated approach can be adjusted to virtually any style of mailing, efficiency results from certain basic principles:
  • Keep donor-specific information on the front of personalized documents (thus avoiding duplex personalization).
  • Wherever possible, combine personalized items on one sheet of paper (e.g., the "ask" letter and reply device on one 8½ x 14 form; sheets of pledge coupons; etc.) so as to minimize the total number of personalized sheets required for package.
  • Use window envelopes when possible to avoid the need to match personalized components of the package.


3 - Take advantage of ways to improve the quality and accuracy of your data. People (including your donors) are always on the move. Keep their addresses current by regularly updating your data via the National Change of Address (NCOA) database. Also, since the results of data entry are seldom perfect, correct address information (and render it into USPS-preferred format) by having your data CASS-certified. And, of course, take advantage of your mailings to improve your database by using USPS Ancillary Service Endorsements (e.g., Address Service Requested or Change Service Requested) to have mailpieces forwarded or returned and/or to receive notification of changes or problems in your donor records.

4 - Think outside the box!  If your donor-management software does not offer all the functionality required for your particular pledge program (and upgrading this software is out of the question), consider using other software that you may already have (e.g., the database program in an office-productivity software suite). Custom macros within a database program make advanced processing possible (e.g., appending of information to match the requirements of the particular fulfillment package). An outsourcing vendor is often a big help in setting up the programming routines for such regular output chores.

Helpful hint (for high-volume gift processing):  If the volume of replies and payments regularly overwhelms your staff, consider using a third-party caging-and-batching/lockbox service. The scanline codes frequently used by these services can be incorporated into the format and processing of your gift receipts and can help streamline gift and pledge processing immensely.  There is often considerable savings in credit-card processing fees from such third-party vendors compared to handling this processing in-house with your local bank.

Pledge Program Management Need Not Break the Bank

Without a doubt, a carefully designed pledge program is well worth the effort, as it can help achieve cost savings for your organization. Potential savings fall under the following categories: total number of mailings, full utilization of existing resources, postage, increased efficiency, and seeking expertise. Keep the following “ABCs of direct-mail pledge programs” in mind:

  • Reduce the number of mailings you need to send out. The use of pledge coupon sheets (as opposed to costly pledge coupon booklets) rather than regular periodic reminders results in fewer overall mailed pieces. Improving data quality yields a greater percentage of deliverable pieces (and reduced costs for returned undeliverable pieces).
  • Use existing resources!  Some of the software mentioned earlier may be sitting idle on your computers, just waiting to be put to use. If not, explore discounts for non-profit organizations or other creative alternatives (e.g., open-source software).
  • Don’t spend more on postage than absolutely necessary!  You are probably aware that non-profit postage rates are significantly lower than first-class postage rates and that you can mail heavier pieces at the same basic rate with non-profit authorization (3.3 oz. vs. 1 oz.). [If you are not already authorized to mail at non-profit rates, contact your local post office for assistance in applying for this benefit. Your local post office should be able to put you in contact with the closest USPS non-profit specialist.] What you may not know is that there are even levels within the non-profit class. The CASS-certification mentioned above is a prerequisite for automation mailing, which offers the lowest possible postage.
  • Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency!  Careful consideration of the typical flow within a pledge program and adjustments to the specific details of materials design and flow processes can lead to streamlined protocols and procedures. This means more time and more net dollars to carry out your mission. In short, it means good stewardship!
  • Don’t re-invent any unnecessary wheels!  Professional expertise is plentiful and economical (you most likely do not have all technological expertise available to you on your staff). Be wary of spending valuable staff time to learn skills or processes that are not part and parcel of your organization’s core mission. Seek assistance with at least the revamping of your processes, if not also the design and production. A little help from experts in technology can really go a long way in saving time and money in both the long and short run.

We have really been “in the weeds” in this week’s blog….but it is in those weeds that good stewardship and the maximizing of fundraising results actually happens.  I encourage all to “think pledges” more during this “new year”!  You will not regret it.

Curious how technology can help your pledge program? We can help! Let us take a look at your program and offer ways you can:

  • Utilize Technology in your Existing Pledge Strategy

  • Discover Ways to Streamline Your Process

  • Develop a Technology-Rich Pledge Program for the Future

Request a Consultation


Topics: Nonprofit, Fundraising

The Nonprofit Marketer

This blog is dedicated to sharing innovative trends, best practices, and case studies for fundraising, donor development, and nonprofit marketing professionals. Our content comes from our partnership with nonprofit organizations both large and small, and the lessons learned from the implementation of marketing technologies for constituent development.

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