We are fast approaching the time of year when I will hear many of my clients say “I can’t believe you want to talk about our Holiday appeal now!  It’s the summer!  I’m too hot and sweaty to think about Christmas!”  This is not limited to Holiday mailings, either.  Throughout the year clients will ask “Do we really need to start working on that appeal now?  It doesn’t get sent in the mail for 3 or 4 months.”  The short answer to that question is…Yes.  Yes, you do.

Working back from a mailing endpoint, there are several factors that we consider when we build out a project timeline for any mailing.  Those factors differ from client to client;

Approval Process

How many layers of approval does each component of the mailing package need to go through? How long does each approval layer take?  If there are multiple stakeholders that need to sign off on things, and they each take a couple of days to review each component, that approval time can quickly add up.

How many separate approvals are involved?  Copy, artwork, record counts, print proof and variable content proof approval stages are all common to direct mail projects.  Now let’s say you have 3 approval stakeholders. If they each take 2 days to review and approve the pieces, your approval process alone will account for a month and a half of your project timeline.

Production Process

We aren’t the only ones to have figured out the best times of the year to mail to donors.  As a result, writers, designers, printers and lettershops all get busy around the same times. There is limited flow capacity in those pipelines. So, if you aren’t in that pipeline before it starts to get full, there is only so much a supplier can do to help you out.

Good supplier partners will bend over backward to help you out. But even with that flexibility, there are mechanical limits to how much paper can flow through the various production processes.  So, it’s a good idea to get your job into your supplier’s production pipeline as soon as possible.


As a rule, complexity adds time. Complexity adds time at the strategy and planning stages; at the writing, artwork design and data processing stages; and at the offset print, variable laser imaging and lettershop stages.  The added time is further compounded because it needs to be reviewed and validated thoroughly at each of the stages.

Complexity in terms of direct mail can take many forms. Segmenting your data, while advisable, adds complexity. Other factors, just within the scope of direct mail, include testing different package components, letter copy, variable copy permutations, and asking matrices or demographic audiences, just to name a few.  And, if you add in external considerations, such as cross channel tie-ins to other media, the amount of time you need to validate all of that interaction can really add up.

All of these things are great strategies, but they need to be done right.  If you got a late start on your appeal, and you have a firm deadline to hit, then you are probably going to need to sacrifice complexity in order to hit that date.  Trying to rush through the review and validation process almost never works out in your favour.

To sum it up

We understand how difficult it can be to try wrap your head around a mailing that will not be delivered to your donors for another 4 months.  We also understand how difficult things can be when you have not left yourself enough time to produce and mail the best possible direct mail fundraising package that you and your organization deserve.

When you plan ahead and build in the time that you will need to thoroughly plan and execute the best possible direct mail appeal that you can, you may find that you can have your cake and eat it too.  You just may need to begin baking that Holiday cake in the summer.