Each year-end fundraising season seems to get noisier than the last. With millions of nonprofits around the globe asking for donations on Giving Tuesday, throughout the holiday season, and in the last two days of December, it’s no wonder donors (and staff) have a bit of a fundraising hangover come January. For donors, that hangover comes from the sheer volume of asks they receive from nonprofits. For staff, well, that hangover comes from all of the work and energy that goes into asking.
In this noisy fundraising landscape, staff are working harder and harder to capture donors’ attention. It’s not like we didn’t have this problem 20 years ago, it’s just today it takes a very different form in the digital landscape.
In my experience, there are two ways that nonprofits can try to stand out this time of year and all year long. The first is the have the loudest megaphone, meaning you focus on the volume of your communications and asks. This is what most nonprofits choose to do. The second is to find an alternative to the megaphone, meaning you chose to build a different tool to capture attention. This is not always an easier path but it is one that allows your organization to rise above the competition and noise because you’re doing something different.
This concept comes from a deeply insightful book called Blue Ocean Strategy. It’s a favorite of mine and one I have returned to throughout my career when I’m working on strategy for clients. The book suggests that there are many ways for organizations to stand out and create what it calls a “uncontested blue ocean” that rises above the competition. This includes everything from your unique perspective on an issue to the donor experience you create. There are endless ways to stand out and be different in the best way possible.
Under the umbrella of creating a blue ocean for your organization is the idea of having thoughtful, strategic things to say at the right moments year-round. This is an example of playing the long game in fundraising and it’s also a way for your organization to create its own blue ocean through communications. This means you are relationship building 365 days a year and not just in the week before Giving Tuesday or the launch of your year-end campaign.
This is not an easy strategy, but it is one that will allow your organization to bring greater focus to its communication and relationship building efforts. As I often say to my clients and students, focus looks good on your organization! Focus is your ticket to being known for something, for taking a stand on something. Those two things are what help you build and cultivate and audience.
Think of nonprofits that you remember. Do they bring a certain (or even great) amount of focus to how they communicate year-round? Probably. Some that come to mind for me are Best Friends Animal Society, Girl Scouts, and Sunrise Movement. All very different organizations and yet they all have something unique and consistent to say.
As you prepare for year-end fundraising, you can apply this lens to your organization.
Is your organization focused on a particular message or set of messages?
What would it take for your organization to be truly known for something?
How can you use stronger, focused communications to build and cultivate a true audience for your nonprofit?
These are just a few strategy focused questions to help you broaden your perspective on what it may take to capture attention during year-end fundraising.
Vanessa Chase is President of TheStorytellingNonprofit.com and co-founder of Stewardship School. Her goal is to help nonprofits connect in more meaningful ways with donors through stories and stewardship. She works with nonprofits throughout North America—including BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, Union Gospel Mission, and Cancer Care Connection—and is an internationally recognized speaker. Vanessa is also the Board Chair of Women Against Violence Against Women.