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I was so excited when Annette with PedNet Coalition agreed to tell me all her secrets to success for their continually successful annual year end giving campaign. What I didn't know is how much I was going to learn about so many things beyond just how they plan and promote their year end giving. She also shared how they switched to a paid membership and rolled that into their year end campaign, as well as what they do to promote the campaign during the entire month of December to keep supporters engaged and donations flowing!

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

Secrets to PedNet’s Year End Giving Success

I was so excited when Annette with PedNet Coalition agreed to tell me all her secrets to success for their continually successful annual year end giving campaign. What I didn’t know is how much I was going to learn about so many things beyond just how they plan and promote their year end giving.

She also shared how they switched to a paid membership and rolled that into their year end campaign, as well as what they do to promote the campaign during the entire month of December to keep supporters engaged and donations flowing! 

Podcast Summary Notes:

Monica:  What is your role with PedNet Coalition?

Annette: PedNet is a transportation advocacy nonprofit, mostly working at the local level here in Colombia. 

We primarily focus on walking, biking, and public transit and making sure that people are safe and have convenient ways to get around no matter what form of transportation they have available to them or that they choose. And so I have been serving in the CEO position with penndot for the last eight years. And just recently, I actually shifted out of that position into a new chief development officer position.

Monica:  How does CoMoGives fit into your annual fundraising plan?

Annette: CoMoGives is a huge portion of our fundraising plan. 

We also do other types of fundraising. We do direct mail fundraising letters, we solicit membership donations throughout the rest of the year through our website. We do a few fundraising events. Recently, we’re opening what we’re calling an endurance fund, which is a quasi endowment fund. But CoMoGives really is the largest single source of our fundraising efforts. So we put a lot of time and attention into it. And it takes a lot of our effort at the end of the year.

CoMoGives has been huge for us, honestly. We’ve really appreciated the effort that the Community Foundation and MayeCreate has put into it, because it has really allowed us to ramp up our fundraising over the years.

Monica:  Did you do online fundraising before CoMoGives or was this your first foray into it?

Annette: We did, but we were not very intentional about it. 

PedNet is a membership based organization. And we’ve been membership based from the very beginning. But we were not very intentional about asking people for financial support, as well as their philosophical support. And so for a long time, we had a free membership structure, which just is not a sustainable way of supporting an organization long term. And so the year that CoMoGives started in 2013, we knew we needed to shift into a paid membership model. And so when CoMoGives launched and we learned about it, we’re like, “Hmm, maybe this could work with what we’re trying to do with restructuring our membership.”

Monica:  Have you always done a membership drive at the end of the year?  What led you to the decision to use CoMoGives as a way to build membership?

Annette: Honestly, it really came out of necessity, because we found that our membership donations had really tapered off. 

So we needed to have a really strong focus to regenerate enthusiasm about our organization and to raise funds, frankly, to support our organization. So when we heard that CoMoGives was happening, it didn’t have any history. In the communities, we didn’t know if it was going to work or not. And so we’re a little bit hesitant because our funds were really tight, and like, “I don’t know, it’s 350 bucks, can we afford the buy in?”, and one of our past board members was like, “You know, what? I think this is gonna be really good for you; I will give you the 350 bucks so that you can register–and I’m pretty sure you’re gonna make it back. So just go ahead and do it, you’ll get your name in front of more people”. 

But once we were registered, we realized we could really create a membership campaign around this and use the marketing opportunities that come through CoMoGives to get our name in front of more people.

So not just the same people that we’ve been reaching for the last couple years, but really new people. And so we really put a lot of effort into it that year, and every year since and has really paid off for us.

Monica:  I know there are those out there who are thinking about doing a paid membership model.  When you made that adjustment the first year of CoMoGives, how did you explain to your members how it was going to work?

Annette: It was complicated the first year because we had people go to our website to fill out a form, but it would push them to the CoMoGives site once they clicked “submit”. 

We had this two step process. And we did eventually decide that that was too complicated and confusing and unnecessary. We were trying to gather some information from our members, but decided that was not the best way to do it. So what we’ve done since then is try to prime our members with all the information well ahead of time. For us, that mostly looks like giving out information through our newsletter well ahead of time and explaining CoMoGives is coming up again and how it’s going to work. You go to our page on CoMoGives, you make a donation, and we’ll credit your donation to your membership for the next year.  We’ll make all those adjustments internally for you. So right now, it’s a pretty straightforward process. And honestly, most of our members renew every year, so they’re pretty used to this system. But the first year, there was a little bit of a learning curve.

Monica:  Were your members okay with moving to the paid membership model, or were they resistant?

Annette: I don’t think that we really got any pushback. 

I think the people who had signed up as a free member understood the value that they were receiving from the organization in the community. And so I think it’s not really a hard stretch to say we are a business and we need funds to continue operating as a business. And if you support us, you can help make sure that that happens in the future. 2020 was PedNet’s 20th anniversary, so we’ve been able to be a fairly sustainable organization the last 20 years. And that, honestly, now is largely due to our membership that helps keep us going every day.

Monica:  A lot of organizations feel like they have to offer an immense value for membership. Do you offer things other than the chance to be a part of the mission?

Annette: The first year, and for a few years after that, we provided premiums for specific levels of our membership. 

We provided t-shirts and posters and event tickets and things like that. And what we found was that our members don’t really care. You know, like, those are not the reasons that they are supporting us. They’re supporting us because they’ve seen a long track record of things that they value such as trails, sidewalks, bike lanes, and a better public transit service– those are the things that they want. And so even when we offer those other things, the number of people who accept them are actually pretty minimal. It’s just not worth it so eventually we phased it out. Now, for some of our corporate members, we do provide some benefits just mostly in terms of name recognition, logos on our newsletter, on our website, things like that. So for business member levels, we still do provide some a little bit of benefit mostly in name recognition. But for the individual membership level, we got rid of all the premiums and we just really focus on what we’ve been able to accomplish in the last year with your membership dollars and what we’re planning to accomplish in the next year.

Monica:  How did you discover that people were not engaged with your premiums? Did you do a survey?

Annette: The first year, and for a few years after that, we provided premiums for specific levels of our membership. 

From the very beginning, we always give people the option to opt out. “I don’t need the t-shirt. I don’t need the poster”, etc. Even then, the people who did say, “yeah, sure, I’ll take a t-shirt”, often didn’t come pick it up at the office. Very few of those premiums actually went out the door. Years later we still had like a stack of posters. People don’t care. The actual taking of the premiums was pretty minimal so we just stopped doing it.

Monica:  You totally knocked it out of the park last year with CoMoGives. How did you decide what you would do to promote it?

Annette: We go through a really intensive planning process well ahead of CoMoGives. 

We start planning in September, and now that we have some history with CoMoGives we have our past year’s plans. We go through each activity or strategy of those plans and talk about what worked and what didn’t. Did it help bring in money? Did it help draw more attention to us? Because there’s benefits to that even if it doesn’t result in a donation. We went through every single strategy and most strategies, honestly, we continue to use every year because we think that they’re really successful. But then we also think about what new thing we can add this year. We try to add new things to keep the campaign fresh. But really, the bulk of our campaign is just built on what we’ve found to be successful in past years.

Monica:  What types of things do you do? Your social media is happening and I know you mentioned email.  Do you do mailers and the like?

Annette: We have a whole series of strategies. 

We do a general newsletter. We have a schedule of when those emails will go out. Those are like generic mass mailings. In addition to mass mailings, we also do personalized emails to individual people. So if they haven’t donated by a certain point in the campaign, we start sending individual emails, and we have a secret way of doing that. But so basically, if you haven’t given halfway through the campaign, we’ll send you an email like, “Hey, Monica, I haven’t heard from you in awhile, hope you’re doing well. You know, last year you gave at X amount; we hope you’ll continue to renew your membership this year. This is what we’re planning to do with your gift…”, and we do up to three of those emails. So we consider it three strikes and you’re out. 

We don’t want to bug people or spam them, but those emails are very effective; we see a big uptick in donations after we send those personalized emails. 

People see the newsletters and they know what’s happening, but when they get the personal email, their reaction is more like, “Oh, yeah, I need to do this, Annette’s waiting on me to do this”. So that’s a big part of our strategy. 

Social media is big; we have a whole schedule of what we’re going to do through the social media calendar that covers what topics we’re going to talk about throughout the month. We do a print mailing at the very beginning of the campaign, which is really just our annual report. So we put together a really fancy glossy annual report, which we’re really proud of, that describes who we are, who our people are, what are the biggest accomplishments we’ve had in the last year, what we have upcoming, and we actually mail that out to everyone on our list at the beginning of the month of December. 

So that way, they get a hardcopy that really shows the impact of their gifts in the last year. 

We consider that kind of a direct mailing. But we don’t ask people or we don’t necessarily encourage people to send us a check back because we want them to give through CoMoGives. So we usually send them an envelope that says make your donation through CoMoGives. It’s another way of getting that message out. 

We do some phone calls. Sometimes we do that a little bit strategically. So if you’re a regular donor, we’re probably not going to call you. We’re probably going to call people who haven’t given in a year or two to kind of re-engage those people. We might call people who have attended our events in past years but have not donated. So we try to add things in as we go over the years. That’s kind of the core of our strategy.

Monica:  Did you try anything fun and new last year that you would like to do again?

Annette: The biggest thing that we focused on last year was the peer to peer fundraiser. 

We had kind of dabbled in peer to peer fundraisers the year before and it found that it really was effective. Also, we knew that the Community Foundation was offering a challenge grant for the winner of the peer to peer. We’re like, “We want to win that! How can we win?” And so we put together a specific peer to peer strategy of how we can do well in peer to peer, but hopefully win the challenge grant. We put a lot of effort into that as well. So we brainstormed a group of people who might do well as a peer to peer host, essentially, and asked them ahead of the campaign if they would consider hosting a fundraiser for us. Some of our staff also created peer to peer fundraisers themselves and selected their own challenges, or things they would do if they raised a certain amount of money.

Our communications coordinator came up with her own challenge goal; if she raised a certain amount that she would take a video of her waxing her legs.

That was fun. Lawrence, who’s now our CEO had a whole series of them that involved things like doing a handstand challenge, eating an onion, dyeing his hair. And so he was able to get people kind of excited to give. Even people who don’t really know us as an organization, but know him as a person, were like, “You know what? I’ll give you 10 bucks to dye your hair purple! Cool!” So yeah, we did really well with the peer to peer again, because we put a lot of attention on it.

Monica:  How do you keep sales going for the whole month, especially during a month when people have so much going on?

Annette: Well, there are definitely predictable ebbs and flows in the campaign. 

There are a lot of donations at the beginning, then there’s a low in the middle, and then a big spike at the end again. And so we know that the bulk of our donations are going to come in basically in the first two days and in the last two days of the campaign. So we tried to structure something exciting happening in the middle to get those middle donations. And hopefully that saves us some work at the end of the campaign and stress of like, “Are you going to donate, or are you not?” 

One of the things that we do is we have matching donors. 

And we schedule those at strategic times throughout the month, so that on December 15, for example, we can say, “Hey, we have a $3,000 matching donor today, can you help us raise $3,000 today so that we can get this matching donation?” So we try to structure some things during those low points, but also just know that it is a really long campaign. It is a long month, and it just is what it is.

Monica:  Is there any advice you would give people just in general about running a year end campaign regardless of whether it’s through CoMoGives?

Annette: Yeah, two things come to mind. One, you will get out of it what you put into it. 

So we have done well because we put a ton of effort into it. December is all hands on deck, like every single person in our office is working on CoMoGives at some point in their day, every day during the month of December. But it is a major focus for us. And like I said, we start planning in September, so we put a lot of effort into it. If we did not do that, we would probably raise a little bit of money, but not very much. People respond when you ask directly. So be prepared to put some work into it. 

But then, as you’re preparing to put work into it, have a plan.

We are very strategic about what we do, and we look at how people respond to our different actions that we have as part of our plan. And then we adjust based on that, like what worked, what didn’t work from year to year. If you can have a plan, the bulk of the work happens before CoMoGives even starts. You can have your social media calendar.  You can have a general idea of what your newsletters are going to look like. You can even pre-write them if you’re that great a planner. You can really do a lot of the work ahead of time so that, when December 1st hits, you’re ready to go and it just flows based on what you already have planned.

Monica:  I do have to ask you about your t-shirt. You were telling me about it earlier. So tell us the story of your t-shirt and, for people who can’t see it, describe it to them!

Annette: So this is Rosie the Riveter meets bikes. 

We can do it. And I wear this shirt at the start of CoMoGives every single year. It’s my “let’s get pumped up” shirt. And so I felt like it was appropriate for our talk today.

Monica:  Thank you so much for your time today! Tell people how they can contribute to PedNet Coalition and where they can find more information. 

Annette: The best source of information is PedNet.org. 

We are also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik, Tok, YouTube, all the places. And you can also email me–my email is [email protected]

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