Year-End Fundraising: Where to Invest Your Time
Being a fundraiser is a lot like being president of the U.S.—everyone has an opinion about how we should do our jobs, but most of them haven’t ever done it.
But now we are faced with the last eight weeks of the year, the time—we know from statistics—when we are “make or break” for our fundraising year. Even if our fiscal year ends at another time, the calendar year-end drives a lot of donations. And our jobs are to benefit from that spirit of generosity (or a desire for a tax deduction, depending on your level of cynicism) as much as possible.
A few weeks ago, I attended the International Fundraising Congress. The following are some takeaways from that conference that can help you focus your fundraising efforts these last eight weeks of 2015.
- Invest in the right things. “Likes” on your Facebook page are nice; donors to your cause are gold. The number of email addresses you have matters, but the number of gifts received as a result of an e-appeal can be a game-changer. When you are up against the end of the year, don’t invest too much time on things that won’t impact your bottom line. It’s tempting because these often are easier to impact, but especially at year-end, focus on what is going to increase your income. People are most likely to give donations at year-end; make sure you are in front of them (over and over) making a strong case for giving to your organization.
- Don’t pussyfoot around. Studies have shown that major donors didn’t give because they were never asked. Yes, your donors know you have needs. Yes, they know their gifts would make a difference. Or do they? Never assume. Ask. If that’s hard for you to do face-to-face, practice in your office or car or roleplay with a friend. If your fundraising copy is long on inspiration and short on asking, reread your copy and ask yourself if you asked—clearly and more than once, not buried in the middle paragraph. Have someone scan your letter or e-appeal (many of us are scanners, not readers); does the “ask” pop out to even the more casual scanner? Not sure what makes a good fundraising letter work? Review examples you have collected from organizations that are successful in fundraising or check out Who’s Mailing What!
- Respond to requests for information, complaints or even nice notes quickly. Donors want a relationship with an organization they support. Part of a relationship is having a conversation from time to time. You build trust when you take the time to answer a question, acknowledge a complaint (even if it isn’t something that you will change), honor a preference—in short, treat your donor like you want to be treated. Donors are people, not just accounts in the database. Consider each one your aunt, grandmother or the guy from whom you borrowed a leaf blower; how would you respond if he or she were asking the question?
- Invest in building a relationship with newer donors. A study earlier this year by the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at the University of Plymouth (U.K.) found that the first year-and-a-half is what determines the full relationship between a donor and an organization. Sending a holiday greeting via mail or email often is reserved for major donors, but perhaps you should include new donors, as well. Message uniquely for the new donors, letting them know how happy you are that they are part of your family of supporters. Have a “courtship” strategy this year-end that acknowledges that the first gift doesn’t directly lead to absolute commitment.
- Put your time in activities that generate repeat donations. Retail outlets aren’t advertising in the hopes that someone will come in and just buy one item; they are glad for that sale, but their successes are dependent on repeat customers. We spend a lot of time in fundraising chasing after the latest “Black Friday Doorbuster”—that hot activity that is going to get a single donation from someone who is really not interested in a long-term relationship with our cause. Instead, put your efforts these next eight weeks into building sustainable donor relationships.
This old dog knows that there isn’t a single strategy for year-end success. (Oh, that it were as easy as following a recipe.) There are plenty of things on which to focus—Giving Tuesday, maximizing our Google AdWords, using “power” words in copywriting, having strong subject lines, telling stories, having a website optimized for mobile, and on and on. But I contend that the basic success factor of fundraising hasn’t changed: People want to have relationships with the organizations they support. What will you do differently this year-end to build those relationships with your donors so you are still “best buds” come Jan. 1?
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.