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Don’t Stop Fundraising Because You Worry Donors Are Tapped Out

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Get out there and ask — don’t stop fundraising!

Some nonprofits I’ve talked to have told me they’re toning down their year-end campaign this year. Maybe it’s because…

  • they’re short staffed due to pandemic-related lay-offs.
  • they’ve cut back on their programming and don’t feel ‘worthy’ of making a philanthropic ask at this time.
  • they’re fearful folks will give less due to a variety of circumstances – uncertainty in general, personal financial situation, diversion of philanthropic resources to front-line charities, and so forth.
  • They’re embarrassed to ask at a time when their constituents may be tapped out.

Here’s the truth: Embarrassment won’t kill your nonprofit; not asking will.

It’s not insensitive to ask right now. It’s totally appropriate. Just as always, people can decline. But don’t deny them the opportunity and don’t stop fundraising!

Fears donors will stop giving are largely unfounded.

A recent study by The Nonprofit Alliance and RKD Group asked donors their plans for giving this December. Traditionally, around 30% of annual gifts have been made in the last month of the calendar year. This year:

“80% of donors say they plan to give the same as or more than last December. Only 20% will reportedly reduce their giving.”

  • 36% of surveyed donors said they planned to give more this December than last December.
  • 44% of surveyed donors plan to give the same amount.
  • 20% plan to reduce their giving this year, but… they still plan to give (unless you fail to ask).
  • 65% of donors who make over $100,000 said they expect to give more in December. Step up major donor fundraising. The trend of fewer donors giving larger gifts to fewer charities continues – so you must work harder to attract those big gifts.

When asked if they feel ‘tapped out’ by COVID giving during spring and summer, those who’d already increased their giving said ‘no.’ They still have more to give.

Don’t ignore donors who’ve already given to you this year.

Past behavior predicts future behavior, and if they are responding to you well thus far, the survey shows they’re likely to continue to do so.

“77% of donors have given the same as or more than 2019.”

  • 61% of donors who plan to give more in December already gave more in 2020 than in all of 2019.
  • 39% of respondents accounted for 97% of all individual donations. The results show larger donors truly have more to give and are likely to want to do so.
  • Much of the giving thus far came via a surge in online donations from younger generations stepping up to help their communities. Take note: they’re not done yet! Millennials and younger GenXers say they still have more to give.

Excuses not to ask people for money are easy to come by.

The gifts you’ll fail to receive as a result of excuses not to ask are equally easy to lose.

This pandemic may almost feel like a gift to some who’ve always hated to fundraise. These folks righteously argue: “Why not take a bit of a breather?” “Why not give our beloved donors a break?”

I’ll tell you why not.

Today’s fundraising begets tomorrow’s fundraising.

Slack off in the present and your future becomes more uncertain. You’re doing no one any favor by failing to offer folks the opportunity to do something powerful and meaningful to make an impact. You’ll rob those who rely on you of needed programs and services. You’ll rob your supporters of joy, meaning and purpose.

And you’ll do so not just today, but likely next year and the year after that. Once ties are severed, that’s often the end of what might have developed into a beautiful relationship. You must keep the communications flowing!

It’s a lot easier to break good habits than it is to build them.

You probably know by now that first time donor renewal is abysmal. About 19% per the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. If you can manage to elicit a second gift however, the renewal rate increases to 60%.  If you can secure a monthly commitment, renewals soar to 80 – 90%.

The truth is that the worth of a donor to your organization lies in their lifetime value. It’s resource-intensive to secure that first gift, but it’s worth it if you do the follow-up work to build and sustain the donor relationship.

That’s when you’ll convert a small, first-time donor to a habitual one. Nurture that habit, and you’ll convert a habitual donor to a thoughtful one. Continue to cultivate that supporter, and you’ll convert a thoughtful donor to a passionate one.

It’s those carefully nurtured, thoughtful and passionate donors who will sustain your mission over time.

But if you give up on them, they’ll give up on you.

It won’t be easy to get neglected donors back.

Why? Because it’s likely they’ll have moved on to another organization that took better care of them.

Past behavior of donors predicts future behavior.

This should be no surprise to those familiar with Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence and persuasion. One of these is “commitment and consistency.” Human beings have an innate desire to be seen as consistent. That’s why if you remind them they gave to you last year, they’ll be more likely to give again this year. The ‘consistency principle’ acts as a decision-making shortcut. Since they already decided on “yes,” why not simply continue the commitment?

The same can be said about a break in consistency. Once someone has broken their commitment, it’s easy to keep it unbroken. Because that was the most recent decision they made. And sticking with this decision would be consistent.

Overcoming the decision donors make to lapse is difficult.

Rates of lapsed donor renewals hover at just 4% per the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. You simply can’t afford to let this happen because you decide to skip – or ask less frequently or aggressively – this year.

Once you’ve burned your bridges, you can’t reach these folks as easily as you could before. You need to begin to build the bridge all over again. And this is hard, time-consuming, expensive work.

Relationships need constant tending to be sustained.

Sure, you may tell yourself donors will understand why you eased up on your communications this year. And maybe they will. I wouldn’t count on it, however. That’s not how most relationships work.

If your friend stops connecting with you for a year, how do you feel when they call out of the blue and ask for a favor 12 months later?

People are especially feeling a need to be nurtured today. So slacking off on your donor communications right now is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing. In fact, you should be doing everything in your power to connect more deeply with donors.

Don’t fall for the canard that over-solicitation is the problem. The problem is only-solicitation. Do unto your donors as you would have them do unto you.

  • Get to know them.
  • Become friends.
  • Give them something of value; not just once a year, but regularly.
  • Stay in touch.
  • Don’t fail to offer opportunities to make an important impact in an area they’ve demonstrated they care about.

Donors want to be asked!

I return again and again to the groundbreaking research from Penelope Burk who authored Donor-Centered Fundraising almost two decades ago. The core of Ms. Burk’s work is that 93% of donors would definitely or probably give again if you communicated with them more effectively, 74% would continue giving and 64% would give more.

Ask donors for their permission to invite them to be a champion at this time.

  • If you know their past giving and capacity, suggest a specific ask amount for a specific purpose. Gently ask if it would be possible for them to support you today with a special year-end gift. People give more when they can visualize the impact. They also give more when they don’t have to guess at how much you need or want. If you can’t come up with one figure, at least suggest a giving range. And always leave space for “other” should they want to fill in their own amount.
  • If you’re reaching out to donors about whom you know less, tell them you don’t know how much they might be able to give, but… you have a fundraising goal to meet. You have an outcome you need to reach. Can they contribute to make this outcome a reality? Some will say no. Others will say yes.

We all need to know we’re not alone.

Asking people to help you is a way to bring them into your fold. 

Think about how you react when someone taps you on the shoulder and says “Do you think you might help me with something?

Perhaps you’re annoyed. Especially if you’re busy right then. More often than not, however, you feel a bit intrigued. Even flattered you’ve been identified as someone who appears helpful. Towards what end might you be able to contribute? How might you be able to make a difference?

The ask opens you to listening and considering.

And, who knows, it just may be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Don’t stop fundraising. Asking for help is a human thing to do. Especially during a time when folks are feeling fearful, isolated and powerless.

Asking gives the person who is asked the power to be helpful.

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