Looking Ahead to Year-End 2014
The money has been tallied, the results are in and 2013 year-end fundraising is over. Now what?
If you made your cash-flow projection for Dec. 31 — congratulations! If you didn’t quite make it, don’t despair. There’s still time to turn the corner. Because I have been in this business since the Ice Age, I know exactly how it feels to do the happy dance when those final Dec. 31 numbers come — and what it’s like when those six most dreaded words surround you in February: “We need to close the gap.”
If you’re lucky enough to be practicing for “Dancing With the Fundraising Stars,” kick off those tap shoes and check out the five things you should already be doing to make sure you retain those donors and improve income at year-end 2014:
1. Check and double check to ensure that you acknowledged everyone who gave to you during year-end.
Late is definitely better than never when it comes to thanking someone who graciously gave to your cause. And speaking of gracious, audit your acknowledgment copy for all channels and make sure that your donors feel your appreciation.
2. Meet with your donor-services team or vendor and find out what your donors said when they called to donate or complain during the holiday giving season.
How do those calls differ from other times of the year? How can you start now to put things in place to make improvements immediately and for the 2014 holiday season?
3. Which donors upgraded to the midlevel and major-donor levels? And what have you done with them?
We all know how critical timing is when it comes to handling newly upgraded folks — and the best time for newly upgraded donors to fall through the cracks is when you have a lot of them moving up the ladder at the same time. That is why I ask you to do a quick review of anyone who upgraded at year-end to a mid- or major-donor level, and follow through with the plans you have in place for handling these folks. Friendly reminders to your colleagues in major gifts about the number of new donors who came their way or a friendly request to confirm new midlevel and major-gift upgrades to your direct-response team go a long way in bridging the gap and ensuring that the people who decided to give you more in 2013 than they did in 2012 feel good about that decision long into the new year. The only thing worse than a one-hit wonder in the music business is a donor who only upgrades once. Don’t let it happen to you!
4. Fill your office or conference room walls with every message your donors received from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 in the order in which they received them.
Read them all again. Now, ask your colleagues to read them. Look at your results and trends. What did you do that worked as you intended, and what surprised you? Put schedules and plans in place now to improve upon those critical 90 days in 2014.
5. What new donors did you acquire, and what lapsed donors did you reinstate? Is your new-donor or newly reinstated donor strategy in place, and how is it working?
Your online conversion strategy should already be tweaked and your list plans adjusted to roll out with files that performed well in the fall. Have you started inviting new donors to become monthly givers? Are you putting your absolute best foot forward as you ask these precious new donors to go on a second date? Will these folks still be on your file as active donors in February 2015? If you wait until October to ask that question, the answer will most likely be no.
But if you fell short in 2013 …
For my friends out there who need to “close the gap,” fear not as I have a list for you, too!
1. Don’t panic — and advise everyone around you to do the same.
Why are you below the number you were projected to hit on Dec. 31? Were there outside influences that affected your cause? Did you have goals that were less than realistic? Were there obvious errors in implementation or technology that affected your outreach or your donors’ ability to give? (Talk to your donor-services team/vendor and your tech team to make sure you know all of the pitfalls your donors experienced — even the ones they were not reporting.) Answer these questions first because unrealistic goals and implementation/technology errors that affected your donor relationships require a whole other column or two of space!
2. Check and double-check your acknowledgment program.
Every gift you received, every donor you have is critical to the next step of asking for more. We can’t close the gap without our donors on board to help us — and an unacknowledged gift does not make it any easier.
3. What is your strongest message? What do your donors respond to better than other offers you have?
Ask your donors to support the things they care about the most (excluding restricted giving). You may need to throw out appeal topics for the rest of the year and get back to basics. It could be your donors sent you a message last fall about the things you were asking them to support. Did you listen?
4. Call your donors.
Put your most phone-responsive donors on with your best fundraisers/telemarketing professionals. Listen to what your donors say when they are asked to support your cause. Participate in more call monitoring than you ever have, pay close attention to what you hear and compare these comments to what you have heard in previous campaigns. Are your donors telling you something about the relationship you have or thought you had with them? Did they not give during year-end because you may have been doing something wrong? Don’t deny the truth if you hear it — fix it.
5. What new donors did you acquire, and what lapsed donors did you reinstate?
Is your new-donor or newly reinstated donor strategy in place, and how is it working? Have you started inviting new donors to become monthly givers? Don’t forget about these new folks when you are concentrating on “closing the gap.” You worked hard to get them, and you need them now more than ever.
If you have things that worked or things that didn’t during this past year-end, I would love to share them in future columns with our readers. The more we learn from each other, the more dancing and singing we will do in 2015!