FYI Blog

Engaging Your Mid–Level Donors

As we transition into fall and the busy giving season, I’m looking for opportunities to engage donors in new ways, and offer them more avenues for giving at this generous time of year. For potential mid-level donors, this is a great time to begin building a bridge between low-dollar and major donor programs, in order to cement […]

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September 21, 2018

One Change Can Be Groundbreaking

Would you believe me if I told you that changing just one thing in your fundraising program could produce dramatic results? It’s true! One small change can generate more ideas to test, courage to think outside the box, and unexpected savings or even revenue. Here are some recent change-just-one-thing strategies that have made a big […]

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February 27, 2018

Finding Inspiration at the Kennedy Center’s Arts Summit

KC art Summit - Speaker

Service. Gratitude. Innovation. Creativity. Exploration. Freedom. Courage. Justice.

These are the ideals John F. Kennedy set forth for the country to pursue during his presidency—and the inspirational themes of the third annual Kennedy Center Arts Summit that we were thrilled to attend in late April. The Summit brought together people from all facets of the arts community to explore these standards and discuss the concept of the citizen artist.

Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma co-hosted the Summit, which included captivating live performances, panel discussions, break-out sessions, and the announcement of the inaugural class of citizen artist fellows. Felllows are chosen for their contributions to the arts and their commitment to the principles of President Kennedy’s legacy. According to the Kennedy Center, “the Fellows will receive national recognition and opportunities to showcase their voice and work in order to further their trajectory and impact.”
KC art Summit - art2
The afternoon breakout sessions focused on JFK’s eight ideals—service, gratitude, innovation, creativity, exploration, freedom, courage, and justice—and further explored the concept of the citizen artist and how the arts can transform communities. In the session I attended, on freedom, I had the opportunity to dance with Sonia Manzano (“Maria” from Sesame Street)!

At the closing reception, we were treated to a surprise performance featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, and one of the new citizen artists. It was the perfect ending to a remarkable day that reminded us of all the Kennedy Center has to offer—not only through its world-class performances, but also through its community and educational outreach.

Visit the Kennedy Center’s website to watch videos from the Summit and get a taste of the talent and excitement those of us lucky enough to attend experienced.

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May 19, 2016

Testing to Add Punch to a Successful Campaign

NTHP Notecard Appeal

Sometimes a minor tweak to an existing appeal package can be the key to refreshing an institutional approach. Avalon’s reply card test in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s (NTHP) March 2013 note card appeal proved to be an excellent example of this strategy.

OBJECTIVE: NTHP looked to Avalon to test ways to improve the performance of its annual note card appeal—specifically to increase the response rate and average gift while engaging the membership with this simple package.

STRATEGY: The note card control and test packages both included an elegant, highly personalized card featuring NTHP’s logo on the outside and compelling copy on the inside, with an individualized ask string, and Real-Pen-addressed outer envelope. The control package did not contain a reply card—instead, we included an ask in the body of the note, with a “handwritten” ask at the bottom. For the test package, we printed a matching reply card on 65-pound stock—heavier than a standard sheet of paper—to add perceived value to the package.

We mailed the note card appeal to all current (0-12 months) and recently lapsed (13-24 months) donors who had made a gift of between $20-$999.

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May 6, 2015

Thoughts on Donor Acquisition Strategy

stick group talkingAt Avalon, one way we keep up to date on industry trends is to solicit insights from experts in our field, looking to expand our knowledge and understanding of what’s working for others. Recently, we sat in on DMFA’s Brown Bag Series on list performance and heard the opinions of three professionals with deep expertise in donor acquisition. Here are some of the highlights:


CELCO President Barbara Sims talked about how acquisition was flat through the first half of 2013. “Organizations were bringing in more money, but from fewer members, with the average gift up, but response rates lagging,” she said. “In that kind of weak prospecting climate, I recommend mailing as many names as possible to try to recruit as many new members as possible – the key is to consider the long game and stem attrition now.” Barb also stressed the importance of looking at online matchback analysis by list, since certain lists may contain people who are more likely to give online. This is also important as it further demonstrates the true value of the mailing.


Bruce Hammer, DonorBase’s VP of Sales shared this advice: “Don’t fear co-ops! Instead, Bruce says, “Think of co-ops as different lists and try them all, co-ops have different data sets and different methodology yielding different prospects. Balance your various list types in each mailing, with co-ops comprising 30%- 50% of the mix.” In general, most organizations’ lists match 90% of the names already in a co-op (this can vary wildly depending on the co-op) – and those are the names the co-ops want and perform the best: multi-givers. So look at the types of organizations the donors in your co-op lists are giving to – this will give you ideas for other markets to test. And don’t give up on a co-op list after one test – it may take a few tests to fine-tune your model, but it’s worth it. Multiple studies show that co-op lists have an ROI that is off the charts. And remember that communicating your organization’s goals and current metrics are critical to building a successful model. For more on co-ops, you might want to revisit Avalon’s blog on compiled lists, here.

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February 20, 2014

Planning for Another Postage Increase

mailboxReady for the new exigent postage increase? The Washington Post ran a comprehensive piece on this emergency funding for the USPS, but here it is in a nutshell:


– January 26 is D Day for the postage increase, when the price to mail a first-class letter goes up by three cents – the largest increase in 11 years.

– At this point, the increase has been approved on an emergency basis for two years, but it is unclear how rates will change after that two-year period is over.

– As the Post explains, “Regulators approved an inflation-tied 1.7 percent hike in November that will raise stamp prices by a penny; the announcement [of this new increase] will result in an overall 6 percent jump in postal rates.”

– For further details on the USPS’s new prices, visit

For some suggestions for direct marketers – things like commingling strategies and modeling to ensure you’re mailing to your most responsive supporters – it might be helpful to review last year’s pre-postage-increase blog.

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January 17, 2014

Five-Day USPS Mail Delivery is Coming…Are You Ready?

MailSmart Logistics is out with a terrific blog called How Can Mailers Prepare for Five Day USPS Mail Delivery? Since they posted this piece, some members of Congress have introduced a bill to keep six-day mail delivery, and as I write this, we don’t know if this legislation will be successful. What we do know is that five-day deliver will affect all mailers (catalogs, magazines, nonprofits, etc.), so in the event that it becomes reality, we need to be prepared. The MailSmart blog describes how the volume of mail people receive each day will increase with five-day delivery, so we will all need to find a way to make our mail stand out even more. Here are MailSmart’s recommendations for getting ready for five-day delivery:

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March 22, 2013

Best Practices: Top 3 things You Need to Know to Comply with New USPS Regulations

The USPS is out with a reminder of the new postal regulations that went into effect in January, and they mean business.  The Post Office has made it clear that they’re going to be sticklers for detail and won’t accept any variances to full compliance with their rules. So let’s go over the top three most important changes:

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February 5, 2013