Underlying this 1-2-3 formula is a need for balance.
It’s obvious. I know you know it. But… do you do it?
I’m here today, just in case you need a little reminder.
- The first step is essential for success in anything.
- The second step is essential for success in any consumer-facing business.
- The third step is essential for success in reaching a fundraising goal.
When the world seems wildly out of balance, it is incumbent on us to begin with centering actions: for ourselves, others, and our mission.
Balancing Trick: You. Donor. Nonprofit.
I’m talking about balancing self-love with donor-love with mission-love.
You can’t help others unless you first take care of yourself.
This is a truism you should carry with you throughout your life, and not just when the oxygen masks come down on an airplane. It’s never been truer than in the times in which we’re currently living, when there are new things about which to worry seemingly daily.
How do you lead the way forward, helping yourself and others navigate through the tough times?
I’d like to suggest you heed this 3-Step Formula to nonprofit fundraising success.
FIRST: Take Care of Yourself
Today I share some ‘don’t panic’ self-care strategies from the Greater Good Center at U.C. Berkeley: Six Daily Questions to Ask Yourself in Quarantine. Written at the beginning of the pandemic, they’re even more relevant today after years of shocks to the system, our sense of decency, morality, “normalcy,” and our notions of what constitutes a caring community.
Please think about these questions for yourself and for your organization. And allow me to make a few suggestions – in addition to the inspiring ones you’ll find on the Greater Good website. It’s okay if everything isn’t perfectly balanced right now (I’m certainly not!); just give it your best shot.
1. What am I grateful for today?
Begin with yourself. Try to think about one small thing you are doing to bring a little joy or comfort to your life. I am dressing in joyful colors! Or just spend a minute or two making a list of family and friends for whom you’re grateful. And, maybe, why. Then consider who you’re grateful to at work. A fellow staff member? A donor? Maybe you should let them know!
ACTION: Keep a Gratitude Journal. This can bring all sorts of personal benefits, including improving your physical and mental health. It won’t cure all ills, but it can improve your mood, bring you hope, and make it easier for you to bring positivity to others. I also advocate keeping a Donor Gratitude Journal to remind yourself of the blessings donors bring. You’ll feel more connected to them and, hopefully, reminded to reach out to say thank you.
2. Who am I checking in on, or connecting with, today?
Greater Good writer, Brooke Anderson, says: “As many have rightly reframed it, it’s not social distance we need, but rather social solidarity while we maintain physical distance.” She suggests picking three people each day to check in on. Family. Friends. Neighbors. I’d suggest you also consider other nonprofits you may be able to help. Then consider which of your donors you might check in with. Know it’s not just your clients and staff who need you now; your volunteers and donors need you too!
ACTION: Send your donors reassuring, inspiring messages. Begin every communication with “How are you?” Express genuine concern for how they’re doing. Let them know you want to be sure they’re okay. Why? Because they’ve always helped your organization be okay. Show you care about them as more than just ‘donors.’ Share from your heart to theirs. They care. You care. Mutual caring is more needed than ever. And I guarantee this will make you feel good!
3. What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?
Please stop pretending everything will be back to business as usual in a month. It won’t. Better to face this sooner than later. It will be empowering to give yourself permission to innovate a new modus operandi – both at home and at work (even if they’re both happening in the same physical space for now). Whatever you used to do, it’s okay if you no longer do it that way. The biggest threat to success is just cruising along in “waiting” mode.
ACTION: Figure out what is important to you to get accomplished. Not two years ago, last year, last month, but today. Focus there. You need to let go in order to successfully adapt.
4. How am I getting outside today?
Over the past two years, all sorts of wise folks have told you about the importance of nature, fresh air, and sunshine. It’s still important! Any time you’re feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, try to take a little walk. Or go outside and sit on a porch or in a garden for five minutes. Or stick your head out your window.
ACTION: A friend of mine told me she went to Home Depot and bought a ton of pansies. “Getting flowers in the yard will make me happier.” What can you do to make yourself happy this way? Can you send a photo of yourself holding a big bouquet you can present to lift your donors’ spirits? Or perhaps photos of nature you took on a walk? Whatever your mission, it shouldn’t be difficult to somehow relate it to helping folks take care of their nervous systems.
5. How am I moving my body today?
Just like getting outside, moving your body can reduce stress, fear and anxiety. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do an hour-long exercise video every day. Just a little bit of movement will help. Anything.
ACTION: Walk up the stairs – maybe while humming a song. Do a few sit-ups or push-ups. Dance in the kitchen. If you have limited mobility or fitness, roll your wrists or ankles in a circle while seated. Un-hunch your shoulders. Massage the tension out of your jaw. Take a deep breath while putting a hand on your heart to feel its beat.
6. What beauty am I creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?
I’m looking for the tiny beautiful things wherever I can find them. Beauty is an antidote to despair. A reminder everything is not horrible. Maybe you can draw your feelings. Or write down your dreams. Or plant flowers or vegetables. Or cook for family or neighbors. Or pick up that musical instrument you put down some time ago. Or sing in the shower?
ACTION: Go on a tiny beautiful thing hunt in your neighborhood and take photos of what you find; share with your friends. Heck, share with your donors; it might give them a boost too! This gives purpose to your walks, plus it’s a lot of fun (I confess: It satisfies my shopping cravings; I’m perpetually ‘on the hunt’).
SECOND: Take Care of Your Donors
Once you’ve taken care of yourself, you’re ready to share the love that’s at the heart of the philanthropic exchange – “love of humanity.”
Connect, connect, connect!
Make this your mantra for today, and moving forward!
Simply sending automated emails or print mailings is not connecting. Nor is sending a greeting card or thank you letter on which you don’t take the time to write a personal note. There’s a huge difference between “transacting business” (i.e., checking a task off your list) and the type of transformational relationship -building that is the sine qua non of successful, sustainable fundraising. You want to begin a conversation, and keep it going.
ACTION: Make a point of talking to your donors about how they’re doing in light of what’s going on in the world. Use whatever dialoging tools you have – email, text, phone, zoom or in-person meeting. The more real time, the better. It’s always been good practice to stay in touch with your supporters. In fact, the numero uno reason donors stop giving is due to your poor communication with them. So, use this time of constant “breaking news” as your reason to – finally — get your donor love and loyalty plan off your back burner! Then – as appropriate — share with them the situation for your organization and those who rely on your programs and services.
THIRD: Take Care of Your Mission
You’re taking care of yourself, you’re reaching out to care for your donors, now take the time to put a development plan (aka integrated fundraising and marketing) in place to take care of your nonprofit mission.
You’ve probably already got some sort of plan; I want you to look at it through a new “today” lens. And I want you to get specific so both you and your donors will be able to measure success.
1. GOAL: Determine Your Fundraising Purpose(s) and Monetary Targets
Don’t just say “times are tough and we’re going to need more money.” Set a goal so donors can step up to the plate to help you meet that goal. This will not only be more helpful to you; it is also more satisfying for your donors.
Be transparent about If you’re totally fine, and have a big endowment to see you through this rainy day, then fine. Don’t ask now. But if you’re like most nonprofits, you probably have some very specific problems you’re facing. Like how to pay rent. Whether to lay off staff. How to continue serving your constituents. How to be sure you won’t disappear. You know, existential crises.
ACTION: If you’ve developed a shortfall, be transparent about your situation today, and specific about your needs. Describe what you’ve identified for the next 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. Talk about increased/decreased demand, and why this is happening. Project this out longer if that’s a likely scenario for your organization. We’re in a marathon here, not a sprint.
ACTION: Major donors are exactly the folks who want to make a demonstrative difference. This is your golden opportunity to show them why you need them to keep you afloat. Usually these types of ‘grand gesture’ opportunities are reserved for capital campaigns. But, this time, it’s not about your donor getting their name on a building. It’s about assuring you get to come back to your building, continue doing your mission-critical work from said edifice, and continue helping, saving, rescuing, inspiring, educating, preventing, restoring, sharing… all the essential things you do to help those who are relying on you not to disappear.
2. STORY: Develop Your Fundraising Script
Paint the picture you need to paint right now; then insert your donors squarely inside this picture. All successful fundraising comes from bringing the donor into the narrative, showing them how they can bring about a happy ending. Going in know your objective and what you plan to say. Your purpose is to make individual contacts with supporters in order to simultaneously (1) build community (this reminds people why they appreciate being a part of your family, and pre-disposes them to want to stick with you) and ask for support (this, of course, helps assure you’ll weather this storm – which your supporters do care about).
ACTIONS: Here are some guidelines:
Check in. Let folks know you want to be sure they’re okay.
Honest talk about what’s going on with your nonprofit. They won’t know unless you tell them. Plus, this makes them feel like trusted insiders – real members of your family.
Let folks know specifically how they can be a hero, should they so choose.
Thank them for everything you can think of – past, present and future. Thank them for taking the time to chat today; something they said that inspired or touched you; any advice offered, and for responding positively to your request for a gift.
Tell them when you’ll next be in touch. Maybe send a follow-up email after a call, with a link to a little ‘gift’ to lift their spirits. [Ideas: Recipes from staff; Recommended shows to stream (perhaps related to your cause); Inspirational poems; YouTube videos of prior testimonials from beneficiaries; You Tube ‘how to’ videos with helpful tips or fun ideas; Video greetings and thank you’s from staff, etc.].
3. PROSPECTS: Identify Your Best Fundraising Prospects for Today
Don’t get sidetracked by those who’d have you chase after shiny new things. Given limited resources, you always want to prioritize.
ACTION: Begin with prospects most likely to give you major gifts right now. Then continue through the folks you’re most likely to be able to upgrade (mid-level donors; multi-year donors; volunteers and/or users of services who also donate, etc.). Then continue through to the folks you’d normally simply be trying to renew at the same level. This is all just common sense, but it helps to make yourself a list. Here’s a super useful suggestion from Steven Shattuck at Bloomerang.
4. ASK AMOUNTS: Identify the Amount of Fundraising You Need to Balance Your Budget
“Any amount you can give” is not a good fundraising strategy. It leaves donors in the dark about what is needed, so when they give they don’t know if it’s more, or less, than what you expected. This doesn’t make them feel good. It also leaves you at the mercy of donor stabs in the dark. What will you do if you don’t reach your goal?
It’s always good practice to suggest an ask amount or range of amounts. Psychologically, this gives your donor an ‘anchor’ – a target upon which they can base their decision. No one wants to be cheap, and have you think poorly of them. Neither do they want to be a chump, and give way more than anyone else.
ACTIONS: Here are some ways to set benchmarks:
- Base amount on the donor’s last gift. There’s a natural human desire to be consistent. So, if you tell people what they gave last year… or remind them of tickets they purchased or memberships they bought… this acts as a decision-making shortcut. They don’t have to decide they want to be involved. Just at what level.
- Let people know numbers of people like them who are giving. For example, if you have members, subscribers, parents, alumni, former patients, volunteers, etc., tell them how you’ve been touched by fact that thus far 50% of people like them have made a special crisis-related or campaign-related gift. You can also try: “If everyone receiving this mailing gives $20, we will meet our urgent fundraising goal. Since we know some of you are experiencing your own hardship right now, we don’t expect everyone will be able to give today. If you can, thank you, thank you, thank you! For those of you who can manage to give even more, your generosity will mean the world – and then some. Together, we can continue to be here for all who care about this important mission.”
- Report average giving within a segment of constituents. This is a variation on the suggestion above. For example, you can say:
“To-date our subscribers are making average special gifts of $27.”
“Our parents have responded with average gifts of $100!”
“Our volunteers may not be able to meet face-to-face with clients right now, but we’re receiving an outpouring of gifts averaging $55.”
- Consider suggesting a monthly giving amount as an anchor. This is an opportunity to encourage monthly gifts, which will stand you in good stead today and tomorrow. Bite-sized amounts may seem more ‘doable,’ especially if added to a one-time annual gift that’s already been made or pledged. For those who’ve not yet committed to a gift for this fiscal year, instead of getting a one-time $25 gift you may get monthly $25 gifts. Even six months of $10 gifts would be much more than the one-time $25 gift (of course, you let folks know they can cancel at any time). While you’re at it, brand your monthly giving program with a catchy name, clear case for support and donor benefits.
Proven 1-2-3 Summary
In fundraising, everything begins and ends with gratitude.
Think about what you’re grateful for. Think about why you’re grateful to your donors. Think about what makes you, and donors and beneficiaries, grateful for your nonprofit mission.
If you come from an attitude of gratitude you’ll likely succeed. Because philanthropy, essentially, is about love.
Love, not money. The money will follow, as surely as day follows night.
Love and gratitude are antidotes to fear and despair. Share these with your supporters. Show them how important they are. Help them find meaning and joy in a time when they truly need purpose. This is more important than you might imagine. In fact, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s family gave permission to add a sixth stage to the grief process: meaning.
Today is your opportunity. Help your supporters help you make the world a better place. Carpe diem!
Speaking of Balance… Everything isn’t about Acquisition and Major Donors. Go to the Center!
Just as the center of the teeter-totter is what will keep you steady, so will the middle of your donor database keep you balanced. Provided you don’t ignore these loyal supporters!
The Certification Course in Mid-Level Fundraising is just what you need to find your strength. Too many organizations know how to attract new donors, and how to handle major, personal-caseload donors, but… they fall down on the job when it comes to developing a healthy mid-level donor program that connects the volume at the base with the value at the top. Donors are lost, the long-term, lifetime value of donors plummets, the donor file shrinks and the major donor program stagnates.
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Photo by me; Found sign in San Francisco neighborhood