One of the most intimidating things about planning a charity gala or fundraising event is facing the task of cleaning up your invitation mailing list. This is the nonprofit equivalent of cleaning out your garage – you know you must do it, but you put it off for as long as possible!
When is the best time to start organizing and purging your invitation mailing list? The answer is TODAY!
The beauty of taking the time to dig deep and clean out incorrect addresses, deceased donors, and duplicate names is that from this point on you will have a clean invitation mailing list that gets your invitations into the hands of prospective guests and alleviates the cost of returned undelivered mail.
* Note – your event mailing list should be kept separate from your organization’s general mailing list. Contacts given to you by honorees and committee members, for the specific purpose of inviting friends and colleagues to an event, cannot be automatically added to your main list. If one of those contacts purchases a ticket, places a tribute ad, or donates then it is appropriate to roll them into your general mailing list.
Here are the 5 steps to get you on your way to cleaning up your invitation mailing list.
- Don’t Do It Yourself
- Start by Eyeballing the List
- Look for the “3 Ds”
- Don’t Forget New Donors & Last Year’s Guests
- Consider this a Stewardship Opportunity
1. Don’t Do It Yourself
Your Board and event committee are key to efficiently cleaning up your existing event mailing list. The most efficient way to share the responsibility for editing this list is to send all board and committee members an email with a link to your mailing list spreadsheet and ask them for their assistance with removing and adding names and addresses.
However, it is important that you retain control over the integrity of the list. When sending the spreadsheet make sure that it is “read-only” for the recipients. Have each person send you the contacts they feel should be deleted or updated directly. This will ensure that no well-meaning committee or Board member accidentally messes up the spreadsheet which will make your task even more difficult.
It is also important to have a date in the title of your spreadsheet so you can easily find the most recent version of the event mailing list.
2. Start by Eyeballing the List
This step may feel intimidating to those helping you as many event mailing lists contain over a thousand contact names, so be clear at the start as to what you are trying to accomplish and give your team a list of details to look for. You will need the group to make a couple of passes reviewing the mailing list to get all the kinks out of it.
For the first review, your team should just do a quick scan to see if any names jump out at them that need to be edited out or deleted. Have them email you a list of the changes so you have a record of which edits are being requested by each Board and committee member. For the next review of the mailing list, have them look more closely to ensure they didn’t overlook any obvious typos and name spelling edits.
At this point, it is your job to delete duplicate names in your event mailing list. This can easily be done on spreadsheets by highlighting the first name and last name columns and then clicking Home > Conditional Formatting > Highlight Cells Rules > Duplicate Values.
3. Look for the “3 Ds”
When reviewing the event mailing list look for the following issues: Deceased, Divorced, and Doesn’t Live Here.
- Deceased – It is especially important to catch the deceased and divorced names on your invitation list as an invitation that includes the name of a departed spouse, whatever that reason, can be painful to the remaining spouse.
- Divorced – In the cases of divorce, you should attempt to get updated contact information for both people involved in hopes they will both want to continue to support your organization and your event.
- Doesn’t Live Here – The best way to handle addresses that are no longer valid is to collect this year’s returned invitations and immediately remove or edit those names from the event mailing list. If you wait too long to do the editing, then you most likely won’t get around to it and those contacts will still unfortunately be included in next year’s list as well.
4. Don’t Forget New Donors & Last Year’s Guests
Each year your organization will obtain new supporters and donors, so don’t forget to add those newbies to your event mailing list if they are good candidates for attending the event.
If you are hosting a free or low-priced fundraising event, then you can include all your new supporters in the event mailing list. This is especially true if you are only sending digital invitations as you can send an unlimited number of invitations without incurring extra printing fees.
If you are hosting a gala, you will want to be more discerning about which new donor names are being added to the event mailing list as you will be mailing printed invitations and each invitation incurs printing and mailing costs.
For charity galas and other high-end events, determine what is the lowest donation level that will qualify a new donor to be included, and then add all your new supporters at that level and higher to the gala mailing list.
5. Consider this a Stewardship Opportunity
While it is time-consuming and sometimes frustrating to comb through an old event mailing list, you should consider the silver lining to the situation! Each contact on that list that needs updating is a perfect opportunity to reach out and connect with a supporter.
- If an address is incorrect, it is a chance to call the donor and catch up on what is new in their life while getting their updated address.
- If you learn about the divorce of a donor couple, you can reach out to them and ask if they are doing okay. Let them know you and your organization care about how they are doing and make it clear that you hope that they stay a part of your nonprofit’s family of supporters.
- If you hear about the passing of a supporter, it is appropriate to send a note of condolence to the surviving spouse or their family. Share a story of your relationship with that donor and the impact their donations made in the community and beyond. If the surviving family members are not donors to your organization, this is a chance to invite them to an event or volunteer opportunity and start the stewardship cycle with the next generation.
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About A.J. Steinberg, CFRE, of Queen Bee Fundraising:
With over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit event producer and engagement strategist, A.J. Steinberg has worked on over 100 successful events and raised millions of dollars for organizations with her Los Angeles-based production company. She is a recognized topic expert and trainer and presents on subjects such as nonprofit event planning, event sponsorships, committee and volunteer leadership, generational giving, and guest engagement.