Don’t let past mistakes come back to haunt you.
The last quarter of the calendar year is well known in the business of fundraising and direct mail to be the most maddening, chaotic and frantic of all the seasons.
For mailers and letter shops trying to manage the enormous amount of work these last months of the year bring is like trying to force ten pounds of poop into a five pound bag.
Needless to say, it is challenging and messy.
In my thirty-year career, I cannot remember any fall season that was manageable or light.
EVERY FALL IT’S BEEN A FOOT RACE TO GET OUT SO MUCH MAIL IN ORDER TO MEET THOSE INFAMOUS SETS OF PROJECTIONS PASTED ONTO THE BOARD ROOM WALL OF MANY A NONPROFIT.
It is a fearful reality that many nonprofits who utilize the direct mail channel in fundraising find themselves bringing in as much as 60% of their total annual direct mail revenue in the last quarter.
The intense tracking through the IMb™ code, the daily delivery of large volumes of mail throughout the country is wrought with nail biting, heated conference calls and eventually results in teams cheering and high-fiving each other, or in some cases, finger pointing and lambasting. This fundraising season can, literally make or break a development department’s year.
The fall is also when all mistakes that can be made in printing, mailing, personalization and premium manufacturing are made.
It is a time of rush, stop…rush, rush, rush, stop…course correction…rush, rush, rush… get it in the mail!
Fundraisers find the fall the most opportune time to:
- conduct year-end appeals to middle and high dollar donors;
- send out those prospect, donor and member premiums of return address labels, calendars and those (pardon my frustration) frickin’ note pads!
- test those new fringe lists, package configurations, signers, postage rates, etc., etc., etc.!
It is the most crucial time of the year for direct marketers and the planning for those critical appeals tends to get crammed all into 8-12 weeks of prep.
Having said all that, I have observed that although this period is full-on, some of my production managers weather it pretty well…while others encounter one problem after another.
And those who constantly encounter one problem after another can then be further divided into two groups…those who have little irritating problems one after another, and those poor souls who encounter one HORRENDOUS problem after another.
For those who are conquering the big issues that are outside our control, it’s not just the problem or series of problems they have to resolve that makes it torturous; it’s the screaming clients who, when nothing appears to be going right, feel that we are doing this on purpose…that we somehow want to fail.
As frustrating as that can be to a production staff, I can’t blame the client’s fury. If I were my own client, I would probably think the same and freak the heck out.
That said, I ask the question…is the past haunting those in the throes of seasonal problems? Could some or most all of those current problems be a direct result of certain actions not taken earlier?
I thoroughly believe the answer is yes!
After 30 years of living, breathing and dreaming production management, I assert that most problems, possibly all problems, can be alleviated if you follow some (or preferably all) of these simple, tried and true rules of engagement and implementation:
1. Proper planning in the beginning with clients and suppliers will minimize errors and omissions at the end.
2. Site visits to new suppliers to vet through-put, capabilities, staffing and schedules will confirm expectations and assign accountability.
3. Package mockups, stock samples, running proofs, drawdowns, print samples, and insertion samples are a must for the process.
4. Changing the nature of and approach to keeping track of suppliers. Stop the passive “How is it going?”…”Are we gonna make it?”…”Are we on schedule?” questions. They are too general and don’t even come close to conveying the imperative you require to get your projects done on time and spot on. In fact, such questions make it very easy for some suppliers to hedge the answer because they sense you don’t want to know the truth. I call it “a wing and a prayer” tracking style. State your client’s needs and expectations as specifically as possible, with em-PHA-sis on every syl-LA-ble!
5. Engage in better teamwork and closer communication. Most mistakes in the fall are a direct result of poor teamwork or lack of communication. Don’t forget all you know nor get so distracted you forget to communicate to your co-workers, suppliers, and above all, your clients.
6. Tap your intuition. Experienced production managers don’t get surprised too often. You’ve been around the block before. You know when you are falling behind…you know when the package configuration is slow processing…you know when the supplier is overloaded…tap your intuition and alert all concerned.
Learn from your mistakes…change your ways…be alert…enforce team spirit…and plan, plan in the beginning. Don’t let the past haunt you!
And remember…the fall is not over yet.
CEO, Production lutions
George Lizama, a founder of Production Solutions and its CEO and chief marketing officer, has spent over 30 years in production management. A recognized leader in the fundraising industry, George served as president of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington (DMAW) in 2010 and received its Distinguished Achievement Award in 2006. In 2008, he received a Washington Business Journal Philanthropy Award for CEO Leadership, partly in recognition of his longtime support of Northern Virginia Family Service, of which he is a director.