Oh, No, Not Again!
Ah, autumn. The crunch of falling leaves under your feet. The crisp, cool air. Football. And the start of — you guessed it — fundraising season.
This year, like every other, I fully expect my mailbox and inbox to be chockablock with the kind of clichés I used to start this column. You can call it moldering messaging. Yuck.
Let’s make this year different. It’s time to turn over a new leaf.
Cliché No. 1
I have a good place to begin. The No. 1 cliché we need to banish this fall is the “it’s fundraising season” or “it’s that time again” appeal. I’m amazed by how many of these I get. My alma mater likes to inform me that it’s “annual gift time.” My public radio station reminds me every five minutes that it’s time for the “fall fundraising campaign.”
The problem with this framing is that the time of year is not a reason to give, unless it’s the last week of December, in which case there is a tax-year deadline relevant to donors. (This is a notable exception — at Network for Good, Dec. 30 and 31 are the biggest days of the year.) We might live by the campaign calendar, but our audiences do not. They don’t care if it’s time for our annual appeal. That’s why they don’t work in our development department or put our campaign dates in their BlackBerrys and iPhones. They have other lives.
Fortunately, it’s easy enough to fix this problem. The remedy, of course, is to stop waving the fundraising calendar and start looking into donors’ hearts and minds. We need to explain why giving now makes sense for them. Tell them what urgent, compelling, fascinating things they can achieve with their gifts. Express how their money will go further right this instant. Spin them a story that engages them on their terms.
This approach creates a sense of urgency far more burning than our budget cycle. And a sense of urgency is essential to get people to give.
But to be clear, I’m not dismissing campaigns. Campaigns are great. There is plenty of research that shows setting a goal and a deadline — and measuring progress toward it — is motivating to donors. But you need to show how they are part of that goal and deadline. It’s about their participation more than our own need.
For example, a good campaign might be called “Send X Kids to School” rather than the “annual fundraising appeal.” It might tell the story of a child that can be helped, followed by a statement such as: We’d like to raise $16,000 to send X kids like this young girl to school. If X people give X amount, we’ll fill a whole classroom together. Then show progress as soon as you have it, so people know they have helped push you over the finish line with their participation. Or if they haven’t helped yet, they’ll know that by acting now, they can make a real difference.
This is a much better approach than “it’s that time again” to support something like “education programs.”
Cliché No. 2
Which brings me to another cliché we need to strike from our campaigns: the focus on our organization at the expense of our donors. When we start talking to donors about their goals for giving — instead of our own fundraising plans — we get far better results. Make them part of the stories we tell and the heroes in our efforts to make a difference.
It’s fall. So by all means, get those campaigns under way. But make them about more than just the seasonal campaign. Make them about what truly matters to your organization and, most important, to your donors. Great campaigns are not a date range on a calendar — they are about an amazing destination that you and your supporters want to reach together. FS
Katya Andresen is vice president of marketing at Network for Good, a nonprofit organization that helps other nonprofits raise money online.