Can we talk about year-end fundraising now?
Because maybe thinking about the crazy days while they’re still fresh will help make 2020 year-end easier.
I’ve been involved in a conversation on Twitter recently with other nonprofit fundraisers and a few smart donors. The conversation veered from “My inbox is exploding!” and “I gave three months ago and still haven’t been thanked, but I have received several additional solicitations!” to “Geez, folks, nonprofit fundraising staff are already burnt out from year-end and we’re only human!”
The problem is that they’re all right.
Sometimes burning off some steam helps a bit. But can we put together some ideas that will really help?
Here are my thoughts about how to have a less ridiculous – or ridiculed – year-end for this year.
First: look at how you are using your data.
If your donor management system isn’t comprehensive enough for your needs while still being easy to use, now may be the perfect time to start thinking about an upgrade.
Yes, you’ll probably need to persuade the powers that be. But if your year-end was successful, the organization might be in a better position right now to think about an investment.
And if year-end was not, wrangling your data well is key to doing better going forward.
Why do I start with the data? A good system is the backbone of your program. It won’t write donor-loving copy for you. But it will make sure you can get the right creative to the right people. And that is critical.
Even if you don’t upgrade the system, take the time when things settle down to really scrub your lists. Dedupe. Run NCOA. Fix bad salutations.
Think now about your messaging
Do you have a case for support? Not necessarily a fancy external one. But a solid collection of the messaging that matters most to your donors and explains why giving to your organization is a very good idea.
If you don’t, start working on one now. Why? Because these messages are going to drive all your donor communications throughout the year. You won’t be starting from scratch every time – and you shouldn’t be.
Repetition works, so don’t be afraid of this idea. Use different stories throughout the year to illustrate your message, but find a great message, test it, then use it.
If you have someone else (like me) do your writing, this document will be gratefully received and the work will likely be returned to you faster.
Plan your communication calendar now.
If you know what your main and secondary messages will be, you can begin to plan your communications now. This also means you can take advantage of slower times to get ahead of the calendar.
At most of the organizations I worked with, summer was a slower time for fundraising. (Maybe it’s New England, but it seems like every donor is somewhere else in August.) That was an excellent time to start on the year-end campaign.
And while you’re at it – write the thank you letters when you write the appeals. This is one more important part of donor communications and shouldn’t be an after-thought once a gift is received. Have it ready to go and save yourself some frustration later.
Mass communication doesn’t mean it should sound like mass communication
You are writing to one person at a time. You may know there are 2500 donors on your list. Your donors know there are approximately a zillion charities out there.
One year-end suggestion I shared on Twitter: yes, donors’ gifts and your appeals will likely overlap as the year comes to an end.
But instead of a rather robotic disclaimer like “If you’ve already made a gift, thank you.”, why not warm that up a bit? Maybe “This time of year is busy for us all. So if your gift and this letter have crossed paths, please know how very grateful we are!”
Every bit as simple to write. Likely to be received in a different way.
Remember as you plan: asking is only one part of your program
While you’re making a communications calendar, remember you need to include opportunities to thank and inform your donors.
Donor newsletters can do this beautifully. And they are not nearly as hard to put together as you might think. Also… these can usually be done ahead of time. You might need to change some language (maybe there is big, of the moment, news to share). But you can begin now to save stories and photos.
Start an internal campaign
Nope, not talking about soliciting your coworkers here. I’m talking about planning for the resources you will need.
The holidays are over. So don’t go to the boss with a list for Santa. Go with a solid, facts and figures, proposal. What would a new staff member mean to the bottom line? Or new technology?
Make your case now and keep bolstering it through the year. (“Well, we’d love to add that event, but without dedicated staff, we’d have to skip the appeal we have slotted for that quarter.”)
Donors have good hearts
Whatever complaining you see on social media (and when it comes to no or crappy thanks from giant organizations, I’m in there with the worst of them), remember that most donors are quite forgiving.
But you have to willing to work for that relationship. When donors feel like they matter to your organization, they move from outsiders to insiders in their minds. So they understand mistakes. But they want to feel important. (Not million-dollar gift important. Human being important.)