Spring is always a good time for rebirth and dusting away the cobwebs. And what a grave, dusty, cobwebby year it’s been.
As I sat down to write today’s article, I found my mind jumping from idea to idea. After all, it’s been pretty hard to focus with everything going on. So I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tried to pull together the various challenges I’ve seen nonprofit leaders, and fundraisers, grapple with in the past year.
I thought: what can people do now to set themselves up for success as we move forward into high fundraising season at the end of this coming year.
It’s not too soon to be thinking about this.
I ended up with four tips I hope you’ll find relevant and timely.
1. How to Message During Uncertain Times
Whether it’s a marketing or fundraising communication, keep these four basics in mind.
Clarity and confidence
Get clarity on your reason (WHY) for sending this particular message; then assure your message is a confident expression (WHAT) of your rationale. Make these two characteristics part of every message you create. And don’t muddy the waters. Each message has a singular overarching goal. If may be information, a solution to a problem, or even an escape. Highlight what it is and why it matters in all your communication channels.
Whether we’re navigating a crisis or returning to “normal,” one thing is true: You’re not going away. Steady, calm, and measured language will help constituents understand you’re there for them — now and in the future. This does not mean gas lighting or ignoring the elephant in the room, however. If you steadily obfuscate, or offer platitudes, you’re not offering clarity. Nor are you getting across the message your stability depends upon you and your community coming together.
There’s a lot of fundraising noise; you must cut through it. While keeping calm, highlight the urgency of a donation in clear terms. What will a gift accomplish? What will happen if you don’t meet your goal? Help the donor visualize precisely how their gift will make an impact. And, of course, have a plan in place to report back to donors who respond to your call to action so they can trust their gifts were put to work as intended.
As you create and promote content, keep in mind many people are looking for reassurance or temporary escape. You do need to acknowledge the times we’re in to be credible, yet not everything you say needs to be about politics or current events. Find something about what you do that feels like what you’ve always done, more or less. Continue to showcase the parts of your mission people have always cared about and supported, even though some of the ways you’re implementing programs and services may be evolving.
2. Be the Bearer of Good News
What donors don’t know, they won’t take advantage of – and that will be to everyone’s detriment.
Inform Donors of New Tax Benefits
You’ll recall last year the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act introduced some new temporary tax benefits for 2020 only. The good news is the COVID Relief Act passed in December 2020 extended these benefits – and even increased one – through 2021. And the Charitable Giving Coalition is lobbying to make these benefits permanent. What are they?
- The $300 universal charitable deduction for non-itemizers is extended through 2021.
- For 2021 the same $300 “above-the-line” deduction is doubled to $600 for joint filers.
- The temporary AGI limit increase from 60% to 100% on itemized charitable deductions for cash gifts is extended for 2021.
While I always recommend you let donors know you are not in the business of offering professional legal or financial advice, and they should consult with their own advisors, this doesn’t mean you can’t inform people about changes in the law which may redound to their benefit.
Too many fundraisers (IMHO) don’t 100% understand their job as a philanthropy facilitator. Do you?
Your job is to do everything within your power to persuade donors to make their most generous gift. This means make giving easy, joyful and meaningful. Within the limits of reason and ethics, of course. It’s the bare minimum to tack “this gift is tax deductible to the extent provided by law” onto the end of your appeal or bottom of your donation landing page. It’s basically perceived as relatively meaningless ‘fine print’ that is mildly reassuring, but certainly not persuasive. Because most readers won’t really understand what it means. You can do better.
Inform Donors of Little-Known Giving Opportunities
Not every donor knows they can make (1) an IRA Rollover gift, (2) designate you as the beneficiary of their retirement plan or insurance policy, or (3) gift you a policy they no longer need. They may not even know you accept (4) gifts from Donor Advised Funds. Or (5) gifts of stock. Be upfront about this in your communications materials, and make the information easy for donors to find. Use plain English, not technical terms or jargon. And offer the name of a real contact person (not a generic “planned giving officer”) — with contact information — so they can get in touch with you for more information.
See other opportunities donors may not know about here. All of these gifts are easy to set up and don’t require paying an attorney to draft a will or trust (something that deters donors from making bequests).
3. Do Spring Database Clean-up!
This is a good time to prepare your lists for your upcoming fall campaign.
When you mail to wrong addresses it accomplishes nothing. And it costs you money you don’t have to spare! Did you know 10% of all U.S. nonprofit mail appeals won’t even be delivered? That’s because nearly 45 million Americans move each year, and for many their mail is undeliverable because of incorrect addresses. Yipes!
Use services such as the National Change of Address (NCOA) at least once a year to keep up with current home addresses. This can save you a significant amount money as addresses change frequently due to moves, divorces and deaths. There’s a new tool called TrueNCOA that will process any file for $20 using the NCOA records of the US Postal Service. They’ll also do address verification and eliminate duplicates — all for the single fee. Many donor database and CRM companies will also offer this service, so find out what your provider has available.
Email Lists and Phone Numbers
Clean up your email lists and phone numbers too! There are donor data append services you can purchase to get emails and phone numbers when you only have a mailing address. For example, Donor Perfect offers this; they claim to find 40 – 60% of the phone numbers you seek. Double the Donation, Bloomerang and Blackbaud, among others, also offer this service. Begin by contacting your own donor database or CRM provider to see what they offer and what other services they may integrate with.
Why not ramp up your efforts to secure donor phone numbers. What you can’t find through data append services, you may be able to find simply by asking donors directly. Ask repeatedly, every place you can think of. Look at your current communication materials. Is it easy, and compelling, for donors to offer their information? You’ll want to be clear this is optional, because you don’t want to depress gift completion. Make sure the place to add/update a phone number:
- Stands out prominently.
On your donation landing page.
On your thank you landing page.
In your thank you email.
- Includes a donor-centered reason people should give you their phone number.
Such as “in case we have questions regarding your gift.”
Such as “so you can easily participate in community conference calls, at your convenience.”
Such as “your number is for internal use only; we will never give it out.”
4. Hold a Thankathon Now to Pre-suade Giving Later
The time to make your donors know how much you appreciate them is before you next ask them for money. Do them this favor and it will be more likely they’ll keep your organization on their short list of favored causes.
This is the principle of “pre-suasion” – a seventh principle of influence and persuasion identified by Robert Cialdini. It may seem manipulative, but sometimes this can be a good thing. Especially when the tool you’re using is gratitude. You honestly can’t thank folks enough. Everything we know about gratitude research points to it being good for both the giver and the recipient. There are so many benefits I stopped counting.
Courtesy of Happier Human website – data pulled together from 40 research studies on gratitude.
Your donors deserve these benefits! Your volunteers deserve them! You deserve them! So put together a Thankathon.
Today, as we navigate from pandemic crisis to pandemic transition, you’ll likely want to farm out the calls. Ordinarily I advocate bringing staff, board members, other volunteers and even clients together in a central space for a fun event (with food, decorations, prizes and the like). You can still create a festive atmosphere by designating a particular day, or several days, in which everyone agrees to participate.
You can get creative with the accoutrement. In lieu of group refreshments, maybe send volunteer callers coupons good for a slice of delivered pizza. Or simply send everyone some gold star or heart stickers in advance, suggesting they paste them on their computers to remind themselves what super star heroes they are for taking on this important job.
Do a virtual training and also send script templates so folks feel comfortable calling donors and thanking them for everything (gifts, advocacy, ambassadorship, direct service) they have done to help. These will be pure thank you calls; not asks for money. These calls should make donors and volunteers feel really good about their affiliation with you. So much so they’re predisposed to make another gift next time they are asked.
A Great Opportunity for Feedback
If folks are willing to chat, take this opportunity to learn a bit about how they got connected with you, and see if there are other ways they’d like to become involved.
Gratitude is most effective when it’s repeated (per research by Dr. Martin Seligman). So don’t let the fact your donor has received an emailed or mailed thank you stop you from connecting more personally. And to give your donors the biggest shot of dopamine – a warm glow from their giving — don’t thank donors for helping your organization be successful. Instead, thank them for the impact they are making.
Want to Learn More about Thanking?
Grab the Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook with six companion volumes that will help you become a donor retention specialist. You can also buy any of the volumes separately. They’re discounted for Clairification School students, and even more deeply discounted as a bundle. And if you’re at all unhappy, no worries. All Clairification guides come with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund guarantee.
Photo by Anastasiya Romanova on Unsplash.