(And what you can do to have the force be with you!)

In a perfect world, the planets would be in constant alignment and your direct mail appeals would always – always! – go out on time. However, we know that the planets often have a mind of their own. We can’t depend on the forces of nature, so sometimes we need to give those planets a nudge. Here are some of the most common obstacles we face when it comes to getting appeals out the door, along with four tips for making your campaign run as smoothly as possible.

First thing’s first…

Who is signing your letter? One of the single biggest opportunities for delay is not having a signatory lined up before beginning work on the appeal. Without this important component, it’s difficult to get a feel for what the package should look like, or how the letter should read.

Tip #1: When out talking to donors, volunteers, and supporters, keep your ears open. Listen for compelling stories that could be worked into future appeals, and make note of the potential signatory. Keeping a bank of ideas will be a life-saver when it’s time to come up with a story and signatory.

Tip #2: Approach these folks early! If you can get them on board when you first hear the story, you’ll have them ready to go in your files when the time comes. How great would it feel when asked about potential signatories to answer, “Why yes, I have the perfect one right here!”? Having the signatory lined up early gets you that much closer to approving the perfect story to engage your donors.

The most wonderful time of the year

The other potential fly in the ointment when it comes to the physical production of your materials is the time of year. Specifically, those end of year appeals you want to get in front of your donors (and potential donors) before the holidays. All good printers and mailing houses are jammed to the rafters from October through December. That means you need about 50% more time to get things done with their queue of direct mail appeals about a mile long. And if you’re doing an appeal that has the ever-popular notepad and label sheet, what should be a 6-8 week turnaround time can quickly balloon out to 12 weeks.

Tip #3: Decisive approvals on campaign direction can go a long way to mitigate delays here. Quick approvals allow work to begin on the non-personalized pieces of the appeal while waiting for final confirmation on the parts that contain variable information.

And finally…

Vacations. You love them; we love them! And in this sector, they’re absolutely critical to avoiding burnout. But taking time off can often interfere with necessary approvals. Luckily, this one’s an easy fix.

Tip #4: Build all vacations into your schedule (or critical path) right from the start of the project. Then you can just enjoy your vacation and not worry about a thing!

It is a rare and beautiful thing to have an appeal flow through all the appropriate phases of Creative and Production without issue. By being prepared from the get-go, you help put your appeals on solid ground right from the start. And that, dear reader, is very appealing!