Across the nation, as summer draws to an end and mother nature prepare for her fall showstopper, so does the nonprofit sector. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the call going up in charity offices everywhere: What’s the plan for our end-of-year fundraising campaign?
What can be said, is that the last quarter of the year is critical for a nonprofit’s financial stability. The data shows that a staggering 40% of all charitable revenue touches down between Thanksgiving and New Year.
In which case it’s no surprise that even the most well-established professionals in the sector regularly refresh their approach, as new ideas, technology, and methods of giving emerge.
In this article I hone in on two critical factors for fast tracking end-of-year fundraising strategies.
- How to keep your relationships with your donors healthy and authentic.
- How to create your end-of-year fundraising content to maximize the campaign impact.
The donor list health check
The donor contact list will likely be the backbone of your end-of-year fundraising. It contains all your key supporters, near and far, old and new.
- So how do we approach our most engaged donors in a new and exciting way?
- What can we do to keep them engaged?
- How do we keep them happy?
- How do we initiate new financial support, even when they’ve already done so earlier in the year?
- How do we expand that list?
The answers to those questions can fill entire books, but at the very least it will take time and hard work to make sure you get the support you would hope for this fall and winter. Below are a number of helpful pointers to include in your donor list health check up.
It’s okay to ask donors for support again
Don’t be afraid to ask for support. The holiday season is a time of renewed generosity. It’s a tradition going back centuries. From Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, to the Chinese New Year just after the western one, the three kings of the nativity story, the secular tale of St. Nick (Santa Claus) to Pancha Ganapati (Five Ganesha) for the American Hindu community.
The custom of charitable giving means that even if you’ve worked with your donors throughout the year on big capital campaigns or gala events, December is the perfect moment to launch the year finale, and the statistics at the start of this article back up this strategy.
Invest in your donors
“Philanthropy needs patience, tenacity and time.” – Azim Premji, one of the wealthiest and most generous business leaders in India.
We have to invest in our donors before they invest in our nonprofit. It’s like reaping a harvest in an orchard—the day you pick the produce is only the last one in a long line of regular watering, maintenance, and groundwork.
Authenticate your donor lists
End of summer and early fall is the time to get those all important donor lists polished up or as I call it: Authenticate. An authentic donor list is one which is full of healthy real world supporters.
It’s making sure the lists are up-to-date. Doing rudimentary spell checks and investigating the details of your contacts online. Ensuring you’re aware of their present circumstances, and to help in this effort your donor management software is a key component.
Across the year details change, addresses change, and people have their own struggles and successes which impact their giving potential. Gather as much information (within reason) on your donors as you can. No one wants to get a communication which includes typos of names or which are insensitive to their current family or business situation.
Add in your new leads. Expand your collection of potential supporters far and wide, while keeping your core donors center front and center.
A little homework will help improve your donor list and the quality of your campaign, which will ultimately rely heavily on authentic donor relationships.
Prepare your donors by asking what you can do for them
When donors stop their financial support for a nonprofit they previously helped, one third of feedback reports state that it was due to a lack of good communication, which led them to become detached and look to donate elsewhere.
Think of your donors as friends, and no friendship can survive if you only contact them when you want something.
A good tip is to ask, “What can you offer your donors?” How can you be there for them in some way? The chances are slim that anyone will take you up on that offer, but the gesture shows it’s a two way relationship and it’s one that you value.
Give donors a chance to contribute
When building strong foundations with your donors, offer them the chance to be more active in sharing their ideas or to be a part of feedback drives.
Give them the chance to offer their time as well as their money. Some will have family looking to intern or friends looking to give back with time or resources other than financial support.
Your donors are your network. Every time you communicate it shouldn’t be about money but about nurturing that network.
Look in the mirror.
When planning, make sure you ask yourself, “What did I get right and what did I get wrong in the past year?” It’s interesting to observe our own failures and use the wonders of hindsight to our advantage.
Don’t conceal bad news, use it to build trust with your donors
When it comes to nurturing these relationships, a great point I have learned is to give them the full picture. Let the major donors in on the ups and downs, the successes and failures. They will appreciate the fact that you trust them to make their own judgements on issues which on the face of it, you may feel reflect negatively on your leadership.
High-profile donors will already have their own opinions and your full disclosure in one-on-one communication lets the donor see that you’re not just asking for money all the time, but you are including them in the reality of running a complicated organization and delivering a mission in the real world.
If there are issues going on behind the scenes, a proficient business person with enough disposable income to help your nonprofit will have probably already worked out for themselves the situation on the ground. When you open up it builds trust and will prevent a perception that you’re putting up a fake front to paper over the cracks.
Always keep details from previous interactions
Make an effort to recall the details from your donors’ previous communications with you. Even the briefest conversation at a fundraising event will have information that it’s your job to recall. Your donor database is a great place to store this information.
If next time you meet up, you ask them how their daughters’ soccer season went, it will show real effort on your part and that you value their support. It costs nothing, but it may have a significant impact on the success of your end-of-year fundraising.
Next it’s time to decide on and create the all-important angle
“There may be differences in races, biases and economic fortunes; but the fundamental human needs that group us all as one, are far more compelling.”
This quote from Oprah Winfrey speaks to the core truth about how to connect through our fundraising communications. It’s turning the individual want to the greater group need. This is where the angle of a fundraising drive is established.
The angle is often referred to as the theme. It appears a lot in end-of-year fundraising discussions, but I find the theme as a heading too broad and slightly misleading in relation to what we are actually trying to do at this point. Instead I use the word angle.
Angle is more precise. Year-end fundraising is about specific disciplines and key decisions of content and process. Choosing an angle implies you’re creating something which fits perfectly to your mission at that moment, a theme is a copy and paste term which tends to be generic.
Pinning down your angle could be:
- To expand out a consistent message you’ve relayed through the year. Some experts suggest this is actually more effective than switching to a new message. Though it would still need new stories and a fresh approach even if the angle is consistent with earlier calls to action.
- Telling a mission success story. This is my preference. Showcasing your mission delivery doesn’t just show you’re succeeding, it shows “we” are successful. Your donors’ dollars are making a crucial difference, allowing you to humanize your nonprofit. You get to clarify the specifics on a very personal level.
- A new plan to engage more people or the wider community with your nonprofit. This can apply well to social media. It’s the ice bucket challenge school of fundraising.
- Create great content and urge supporters to click that share button. Showcasing your source story, the ‘How it all started’ angle. This can be about telling the struggle, the origin tale of who you are and where your nonprofit came from originally. It’s the ‘Ben & Jerrys’ approach.
- It could be the mission ahead and some new front in the delivery of that mission your team is opening. This is about drawing up new directions of travel for the action plan. It’s identifying and communicating the new push, the big plan, and the big idea.
Whether you’re talking about the call to action subject, or the particular story at the heart of the communication, the angle is the engine which drives your campaign.
If your content is engaging and individuals wish to interact with it by taking on the fundraiser challenge, attending an event, or merely by agreeing to share your content, then your nonprofit may reach a huge audience through high-quality output.
If you have a technology-adept team then this can be something to embrace. With social media fundraising tools becoming more user friendly everyday, it’s never been easier for a creative nonprofit to make an impact outside of traditional means.
Creating the content
Once you have the right angle it’s time to create the content at the heart of your campaign.
For this, try looking at the best examples within your field. Look at how those you admire have managed to package their stories. Make careful notes about the aesthetic, color, and content.
Get your writing-hat on and build up that effective content. Try to:
- Review with colleagues
Consider other means of telling this story. For example perhaps it would work well as a video? An online showcase video is relatively easy to outsource or do in house. It opens up that important social media potential.
What if content writing isn’t your strength?
If writing isn’t your wheelhouse then don’t be afraid to outsource where you wish to. Also when you outsource, you get the chance to read the content as your donors will read it. You get the all important first impression and can make changes from that.
Remember the importance of the headline
Have a well established core headline. This is the hook line. For want of a better word you could call this the click bait. A good headline gets more donors to read the story. It gets more shares on social media and it leads to a higher percentage of donations. Remember that the angle doesn’t need to be that different from your previous donor communications, but try hard to create a hook in your headline.
Content delivery methods to consider:
- Phone calls
- Personal letters
- Social media friendly posts
- Local media outlets
- Speaking at fundraising events
It’s likely an effective campaign will be a combination of the above and different types of donors will be better suited to one pathway of communication over another depending on age and inclination.
Whatever method you use, try to add the VIP treatment with the personal touch
A good rule of thumb is that whatever method you use to communicate your end-of-year content, try to make it resonate with the personal touch. Individually addressed and tailored emails, letters, invitations, and seasonal cards are a great idea. No donor will appreciate being just another mailbox to fill. Small personal touches go a long way to building a sincere relationship.
When will the content roll out?
When will have different starting lines. The pre-planning is Sept./Oct. while the content creation is November and the actual big push begins as December starts.
Giving Tuesday (first Tuesday after Thanksgiving) is normally a cornerstone of this month-long donor drive for support and can act as a place to launch from across the following four weeks.
I would advise that Giving Tuesday, although important, should really be a starting point for the season, not the be all and end all of it. It’s a point of time to aim to have everything to launch from.
The underlying sentiment of this article is that the year-end fundraising is driven by two fundamentals:
- Donor list health: Your year-long efforts to make your donors lists authentic. Strengthening those relationships and searching out new leads wherever possible.
- The creativity of your angle: The power to super drive your campaign is right there in the capacity of your team to be imaginative, distinct, and engaging with the content you create. Keeping that angle narrow and highly focused on one consistent message will increase the impact.
All of the above is assisted greatly by having the best software to streamline your efforts and that’s where a reliable donor database like Bloomerang comes in. Get your end-of-year fundraising in the best possible shape for success.
With fall fast approaching there’s plenty of scope to make this year the best yet for your nonprofit and I hope these tips refresh and engage your strategic planning. Good luck!