Nonprofit Postcard Advancement

The key to good nonprofit advancement, which here I define as fundraising or development, marketing and promotion, is relationships. Most of us who’ve been in the trade for a time or who’ve ever tried to raise funds know this. Some of us are good at it. Some of us, including a lot of nonprofit CEOs I’ve met, are not good at it at all.

The latter category, not-so-good-at-advancement, generally involves people who are administrative personalities, more inward than outward focused, technicians or operations types whose jollies come from doing-the-task of whatever it is the nonprofit does. Or, frankly, this category includes CEOs who aren’t at ease with people. Since having to “do advancement” is a virtual given in nearly all nonprofits, CEOs and their advancement staff need to develop relationships. So then how do we help reserved and reticent folks, as well as the outgoing types, do advancement?

Here’s one seemingly insignificant but practical high-impact method: Send postcards to middle and major donors.

That’s right. Postcard advancement. Whenever the CEO, and maybe also his or her leading advancement staff members, travels anywhere “special,” sending postcards to friends of the nonprofit should be on the checklist.

Here’s how it’s done:

    Take along or access online the nonprofit’s VIP mailing list (if there isn’t one, this is a good reason to start).
    Once at the destination, especially outside the US, buy a selection of postcards featuring local geography or cultural sites. If cards are available representing something pertinent to the nonprofit’s mission, all the better.
    Purchase postal stamps or ask a local contact to do so ahead of the visit.
    Draft a two-sentence update, write it down for reference, use it on most cards, along with appropriate personal remarks—connect with the recipient.
    Write card greetings early or mid-trip, then stamp and mail them locally–always mail them locally, not back home a week later.

No rocket science here. Actually, this is a no-brainer but not many nonprofit leaders think about it much less do it.

One note of caution: take care to choose postcards with pictures, drawings, or depictions that are suitable to the audience. Avoid postcards portraying something someone might consider offensive, even maybe a famous statue or artwork.

For example, I work with a nonprofit based on the island of Cyprus, which is the birthplace of the mythical figure of Aphrodite. Greek Cypriots are rightly proud of their heritage and also proud of the Goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Virtually all representations of Aphrodite feature her in various states of partial nudity. Some souvenirs are downright erotic. Needless to say, I’d run a great risk of offending someone if I sent postcards to our supporters displaying Aphrodite in all her sensual glory. So double-check postcard images to assure they fit the intended audience.

Your first step was to access the VIP mailing list. You do this, of course, to acquire addresses. If you want to hand write addresses on postcards, more power to you. But this may double your time and give you writer’s cramp. Better yet, ask the office to run address labels from the VIP list and be sure these sticky-backs find their way into the luggage. I don’t think this depersonalizes or defeats the purpose of the card. You’re still going to write the message by hand.

I’ve written as many as 100 cards on a given trip. This sounds over the top, and maybe for some organizations it would be. But for the nonprofit I serve it works, and though this task requires a few hours it’s not all that onerous in the course of a week or at an allotted time sitting in a local coffee shop. How many cards should be mailed, on average? Pick a number that’s doable. You can always increase the number next time around.

What message should be written on the cards? Short answer: whatever can be written briefly and might interest the receiver. Long answer: whatever combines an update about the nonprofit’s work and why you are on this trip, along with some personal connection evidencing knowledge of the postcard reader. Provide some news if possible, something about a new initiative, some outcomes or impact/results comment, as appropriate some inside not-yet-ready-for-primetime information. Thanking the receiver for project or area-related support is good, too, as long as references to actual gift figures are not included. Be personal but don’t violate legitimate privacy concerns. Remember, anyone can read the back of a postcard.

How often should postcards be mailed to given individuals? It’s hard to say. Use common sense. Inundating someone’s mailbox isn’t a good way to win friends and influence people. Touching people periodically with meaningful comments beyond “Hi, wish you were here,” can win friends and be influential.

Back to the point: relationships. Advancement goes as relationships grow. Everyone likes getting something intended just for them. Postcards offer the advantage of being relatively inexpensive, personal but not too personal, small enough the writing task isn’t overwhelming, and cost effective to mail in terms of ROI.

So try postcard advancement. I guarantee you’ll get good feedback later.

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