Many Donor Advised Funds were created for rainy-day giving; well, it’s raining. A lot.

Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) hold assets of $120 billion while at the same time nonprofits are facing financial uncertainties and increased demand for services! This is a resource that we need right now because with COVID-19, 36 million people are unemployed, and the number is climbing. The economic tsunami ahead for nonprofits is staggering, especially because there may be reduced personal giving, while simultaneously a greater demand to for nonprofit services.

The #HalfMyDAF Challenge was created to unleash billions of dollars from DAF funds into the hands of the nonprofits that need it now. If your donor has a Donor-Advised Fund, they need to know about this challenge.  Your nonprofit may be eligible to receive a matching grant of up to $25,000.

Jennifer and David Risher are offering  $1.4 million to help nonprofits help more people during this time of uncertainty. You can learn about the challenge here. They have a helpful FAQ at the site that will answer all your questions.

You must act fast to create an action plan that works best for your nonprofit because there’s a September 30th deadline when the challenge ends.

Your Action Plan

Here’s a step-by-step approach to encourage your DAF holders to make grants now.

1. Determine your donor segment: Focus on the donors who you know use a DAF for their charitable giving or are likely to have one. Lean toward including the donor if you’re not sure, especially if their giving to other nonprofits is regular and sizeable. Most fundraisers assume someone has a DAF if they have a high net worth and have documents giving to charity. That’s reasonable. We learn if the donor has a DAF by asking either through donors surveys or in the course of conversations with them, or by a close scrutiny of their donation checks.

2. Mail the donor a personal letter: Here’s a basic sample letter you can use. The key message: “Every grant from a DAF or community foundation, together with a commitment to #HalfMyDAF, increases our chances for a $25,000 matching grant. Your money will go further than ever.” While the sample letter conveys the fundamentals, you would be wise to think of the letter as writing to a close friend who has been extraordinarily generous and is on fire about your mission. Avoid promotional language about your nonprofit and avoid client stories. This is the moment to make the donor the hero. If you already have a donor who has agreed to the meet the challenge share that story.

Send the letter via Priority Mail packet or use an affordable Ground Service that has a tracking mechanism. You want to make sure your envelope stands out and gets noticed. This is NOT the time to worry about postage costs.

3. Make Follow-up Phone calls. After a few days pass, call your donor. If you cannot reach the donor after two or three attempts, email them, or text them. Ask for a time for a video chat, gladly accept a phone call if they prefer that. Here are six tips about how to have donor calls. Your initial goal for the call is to listen to their response to the letter, that’s the ideal. The fact is that they may have forgotten what the letter said, or may have received it, but not yet read it. Be prepared to give the headline news first, then the details. Use the challenge as leverage when you’re trying to close on the gift. Be prepared that larger gifts take more time to close so a second call may be needed. Spouses or even whole nuclear families may need to be brought into the decision. That’s normal with DAF owners.

4. Host a “by invitation only” donor call about this challenge: You may want to set a date for an information session about the challenge and take people’s questions. Some fundraisers will disagree with this step, that’s why I said “may.” There’s good reason not to host a group session with major donors, mostly having to do with the fact that personal relationships are key to closing a gift, and group dynamics can make that complex. Having an information sharing session online is something to think about, though. If you decide to try it, set a few simple ground rules. Email me if you’d like suggestions for the ground rules.

5. Express Gratitude: For those donors that take the challenge, and even for those who do not, say thank you. Say it lavishly and well. Explain the details from your heart about why you have gratitude, and how indispensable the donor is to your nonprofit. I like to send personal handwritten notes on quality card stock. I also occasionally send humble “value-based” gifts, like a book related to your mission, or a poem written by a client. One time I sent a thank you note to a donor who turned me down. He called me in tears upon receiving the gift. He apologized, in fact, and made his biggest donation to-date.

Ultimately, you’re making a case to the donor for why giving right now is more critical than later on, because of COVID-19, or whatever aspect of urgency you’re focused on, and because their gift will be matched by these generous donors.

I welcome your questions and comments.

Donor Advised Funds

Laurence Pagnoni, MPA
Laurence Pagnoni, MPA, is chairman of LAPA Fundraising, serving nonprofits throughout the U.S. and Europe. He is author of "The Nonprofit Fundraising Solution," the first book on fundraising ever published by the American Management Association, as well as “Fundraising 401: Masterclasses in Nonprofit Fundraising That Would Make Peter Drucker Proud.”