Proven Strategies to Climb the Year-End Fundraising Mountain

Mountain climberHave you started working on your annual appeal and year-end fundraising plan?

It’s time!

I worked for 30 years in the trenches, so I know exactly what this time of year feels like.

It feels like you’re at the base of a mountain you’re about to scale.

  • Exciting, but also scary.
  • Exhilarating, yet also daunting.
  • There will be good days, and bad days.

And this particular year, you may feel you’re taking two steps forward and three steps back.

That’s to be expected during times of great uncertainty.

Expected or not, I know you’re still anxious and thinking “What if we don’t reach the top?”

Don’t worry, I’m here to help.

This year you may need the equivalent of a few extra granola bars for energy. And maybe an extra tool or two to help you get a grip.

Right now I want to give you a few specific, timely tips you might not be thinking about.

Here are some strategies I hope will give you a leg up, so to speak.

Ready to Put Your Best Foot Forwards?

Here are 11 tips I’ve learned over the years.

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Clouds and sky

How to Kon Mari Your Nonprofit Work Plan

This year it’s been easy to hoard.

You had all the strategies that worked for you in the past, PLUS you had to add a bunch of new ones when faced with the realities of the pandemic economy.

Then you had to add things to be relevant to supporters who were thinking about a million news stories. You needed to be relevant, and consider your stance on BLM, BIPOC, DEI and a range of political and social justice issues.

The extraordinary times could not be ignored, so strategy got piled upon strategy, got piled upon…

And your nonprofit work plan got super crowded.

Time to clear out some space!

You’re likely wondering if you have to do everything virtually as well as in person. You’re wondering if your messaging needs to change to be more inclusive? You’re wanting to connect with folks in ways they’ve come to expect, and to offer meaningful engagment opportunities, but… where is everything going to fit?!?!

Never fear. Help is here!

What if you were to look at your work plan this year from the KonMari perspective?

If you’ve been living under a rock, Marie Kondo’s KonMari is the art of “tidying up to transform your life.” It’s a popular book that’s become a Netflix sensation, and it may not be your cup of tea, but…

What if, through some simplification and organization, you could transform your life (at least at work) as well as your nonprofit’s life — so all involved felt greater inspiration and even serenity?

You. Can. Do. It.

Alas, I’ve participated in many a planning session, and seldom do I recall – if ever – really focusing first on what we could stop doing to make room for new endeavors.  If this sounds familiar, you’re likely also familiar with the unfortunate consequences.

There are some things that really should not be part of your work plan moving forward. Or, at the very least, they should be pared down. Quite. A. Bit.

Here’s how you know you need, as Marie Kondo might say, to tidy up.

  • Do you try to stuff too much into your work plan and end up doing nothing as well as you’d like?
  • Do you allow daily clutter to crowd your inbox so you’re often responding to the little issues rather than the big ones?
  • Do you keep working on things that no longer have the payoff they once had, causing you to miss out on newer and more cost-effective opportunities?
  • Do you allow inertia to divert your focus towards ‘make work’ transactional stuff that satisfies your need to feel ‘busy,’ while you know it’s not really transformational work?
  • Have you allowed your job to become overloaded with tasks you don’t enjoy, to the point where you feel a bit like a lobster in a pot?
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Truth: newspaper headline

Fundamental Fundraising Truths: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Truth: newspaper headlineThe Lilly Family School of Philanthropy projects total giving will grow by an estimated 4.1% in 2021. So you can’t use the pandemic as an excuse for raising less money in the year ahead.

Nor should you ever adopt a sky-is-falling stance of “we can’t compete in this environment, so let’s lower expectations and cut back.”

Did your organization cut back on development expenses last year?  Did you lay off fundraising and marketing staff? Did you send fewer appeals?

If you did, chances are you didn’t tell, and sell, your case for support.

At least not as effectively as possible.

That’s a sure-fire recipe for raising less money than you could or should.

Here are three evergreen, fundamental fundraising truths:

1. It Costs Money to Make Money

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Helping hand

Nonprofit Content Marketing Should Help, Not Sell

Helping handWhen I think about nonprofit content marketing, one of my favorite marketing strategists is Jay Baer, author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help, not Hype.

He says the difference between “helping” and “selling’ is only two letters. But what a difference those two letters makes!

If you substitute ‘h’ and ‘p’ ( in ‘helping’) for ‘s’ and ‘l’ (in ‘selling’) in building your nonprofit content marketing strategy you’ll convince more of your nonprofit social media fans and followers to convert to subscribers or members, and more of your subscribers and members to convert to donors.

Think of it this way. If you’ve traditionally focused on selling vs. helping, you’ve emphasized ‘s’ and ‘l’ [stupidity (your customers) and laziness (you)]. You’ve acted like your customers don’t know very much, so they need you to show them the way. Yet at the same time you’ve been too lazy to gently teach them what they need to know.

Now imagine you focus on helping vs. selling. You emphasize ‘h’ and ‘p’ [humanity (your customers) and peer (you and your customer)]. You treat your constituents like individuals with specific values, needs and desires. You endeavor to learn more about them so you can meet their needs. You engage them as partners, showing you’re all in this together. You create a community of like-minded folks, welcome folks to your community, and take care of your members. Not as infants, but as peers. No one likes to be infantalized.

Sell something and you create a customer today. Help someone and you create a customer for life.

It’s human nature to fall into a ‘sales’ model when you feel so proud of what you do you assume everyone else will want to jump on your bandwagon. Yet just “doing good” is not enough. Anymore than having a good product is good enough for the soap manufacturer. You need to tell people how you can be helpful to them, their loved ones and their community. And don’t expect them to just take your word for it. Show them by offering up useful content and sharing powerful emotional stories and facts that demonstrate your outcomes. Otherwise, you keep people dependent on you to tell them what to do because “you know best.” When you keep people in the dark about the details, they feel both stupid and disempowered. Since these are not good feelings, how to you think this “sales vs. help” model makes your constituents feel?

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6 Strategies to Convey Your Most Emotional Fundraising Appeal Story

2020-10-11 14.40.58People are wired for stories.

We use them to understand our world.

But do the same stories work in any time? For any person? No.

You need to understand your SMIT story – ‘Single Most Important Thing’ – at this moment in time.

And that SMIT will change, depending on the environment in which you’re operating.

You need to know your audience. Today. The story you told last year may not work as well this year.

  • The story must be relevant to the donor – which will depend on what is top of mind for them.
  • And the need to give the story a happy ending must feel urgent.

Relevancy and urgency are the key to emotional appeals.

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Elvis

You Deserve to Rock Nonprofit Email Subject Lines!

Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

— David Ogilvy, advertising legend

Your email subject line matters. A lot.

So this article is all about learning how to rock your online ‘envelope’ – which is really what determines if your email will get opened.

When you stop to think about this, it makes a lot of sense. Your email subject line has a function! And its form should follow that function.

  • First, it must capture attention.
  • Second, it must convince people to open your message.

People’s inboxes are increasingly cluttered, so you need to stand out. Big time!  Really, you’ve probably got no more than two seconds to make an impression.

Do you think carefully about purpose when you create your email subject line?  Do you even craft it at all, or do you delegate this essential function to someone else, perhaps an assistant or someone in your marketing or digital communications department? Someone who perhaps doesn’t really understand the email’s primary purpose as well as do you?

If you’re like most nonprofit fundraisers and marketers, you likely spend a lot of time crafting the perfect email body copy, selecting images and figuring out just the right design that will entice someone to respond to your call to action.  Then, at the last minute, you’re ready to send it and hastily come up with a subject line.

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"Doing the right thing isn't always easy" storefront art

How Humanity and Trust Supercharge Nonprofit Fundraising

"Doing the right thing isn't always easy" storefront artEveryone is saying it.

Just about daily.

“These aren’t ordinary times.”

We’re living in the face of a firehose of breaking news, and most of it is pretty difficult to digest. Let alone know how to face, handle and get through it with safety and sanity intact.

We can either retreat, live in limbo or figure out a way to navigate through this reality and find opportunities to do our work in new and better ways.

It’s a difficult assignment, because it’s not easy to know where to begin.

We want to come from a donor-centered and community-centered place, but… what exactly might that be in this extraordinary time?

“We’re not only longing for the normal that was – we’re grieving losses yet unaddressed and ignoring some of the most obvious. I know for sure: if we don’t find a way to consciously engage with our losses, when this pandemic is finally over, the soul of our country will still be locked down”

– Oprah Winfrey

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the world most needs right now.

I think it’s humanity and trust.

Usually we have to guess at what will feel relevant to our supporters. Today, we pretty much know. Because we hear it all the time. On the news. On social media. When we zoom with colleagues. When we talk to our friends. When we’re sheltering in place with our family.

  • People want to know who they can trust!
  • People want their fellow humans to act the part!
  • People want to consciously engage — with humans they can trust — in a meaningful manner.

‘Philanthropy’ means ‘love of humanity’. Yet today it sometimes seems all we’re hearing and seeing is hatred of humanity. Us and them. Insiders and outsiders. Democrats and Republicans. Left and right. Young and old. Good and evil. I could go on…

There’s a better way.

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Message painted on stairs - We are in this together

Nonprofit Social Media in Time of Coronavirus – and Any Other Time

Message painted on stairs - We are in this togetherThis is one place you don’t have to social distance.

In fact, this is perhaps the most opportune time ever to do exactly the opposite.

But, not to worry.

Getting up close and personal… getting connected to your supporters and potential supporters in an authentic way… this is among the safest things you can do to give people warm, virtual hugs. At a time when folks are missing human contact the most.

And guess what?

It will make people feel good!

And when you make people feel good, they’ll associate that good feeling with you.

This sets the stage for them to be receptive to your call to action when you’re ready to make it.

Social Media is Not a Stand-Alone Strategy.

Yet it can significantly increase the depth and breadth of your marketing reach.

You might think of social media as the new nonprofit advertising.

Per fundraising expert Tina Cincotti, donors are more likely to give, and stick with you, if you connect to them through multiple points of contact. In fact, they give at least 20% more than those connected through only one channel.

You don’t have to be everywhere, do everything, all the time.

When you think this way, you’ll never start.

Begin at the beginning.

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Gifts of many colors

Top Nonprofit Marketing Tip: If You Want Gifts, You Must Give Them

Gifts of many colorsI often say “If you want gifts, you must give them.”

I’ve written about this multiple times, suggesting little gifts of useful or inspirational content – things that cost you virtually nothing – you can ‘gift’ to your constituents.

  • Often it’s information you use in your daily work, and it’s just a matter of sharing your expertise and recommendations with your larger community.
  • Other times it’s inspirational stories to uplift spirits.
  • Or you can share a news article if you don’t have the expertise you wish to share in-house. It’s okay to outsource from another publication.  Just make sure to give credit where credit is due.

Think from the perspective of your donors and volunteers.

What information do you have they might find helpful, thought-provoking, inspiring or fun?

Rather than guess, why not ask?

1. You can survey your constituents directly using a simple format like Survey Monkey, or

2. You can ask your staff who work with your clients and/or supporters on a regular basis. For example:

  • Ask your reception person what some of the most frequently asked questions are when folks call your organization.
  • Ask your webmaster or marketing person what website pages are most frequently visited.
  • Ask your marketing staff what e-newsletter or blog articles are most frequently opened.
  • Ask your volunteer coordinator what most inspires and keeps your volunteers engaged.
  • Ask your program staff what their clients and client families most need from them.

Here are some content ideas from different sectors — especially for the times we’re in:

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