The end of the year is always a good time to reflect back on the last 12 months. This past year I learned many things from many people and was reminded of a few things that sometimes are buried in the hustle of the here and now. Below are the top fundraising lessons I learned (or re-learned) in 2013.
1) Never assume that someone who recently gave a major gift won’t donate again. I am always telling my board and volunteers that you will never get if you never ask. You can’t just assume someone doesn’t want to give – even if you think you know it’s true. The lesson inside this for me, however, came when thinking about donors who had recently given a major gift. We tend to be hesitant to go back to those who have already given a large gift during the year, and for good reason. We never want to wear out our donors. There are, however, good ways and reasons to reach out to donors who have already given to you recently. A short time ago, I forced myself through the self-doubt of asking a recent major gift donor for another gift. The result was another very generous gift! Lesson learned. There is a time and place for asks and knowing your donors is everything.
2) Finding the elusive donor with link, interest, and ability is more important than ever. The sweet spot of giving comes from a donor who has a link to your organization, an interest in what you are doing, and the ability to give a gift. We are all looking for those donors all the time. The need to hit that sweet spot is greater than ever. With so many organizations competing for the donor’s dollars, we have to work twice as hard to not only make a connection with donors, but match their interests to specific projects we need funded. It’s no longer enough to have a great mission and good story. People want specific things that move them and evoke their passion. That’s really what our job is about at the end of the day…making that connection.
3) Cultivation and stewardship is how you get the gifts; solicitation is just the vehicle. This really wasn’t a new lesson for me; it’s something I’ve been preaching for a long time. But in the fundraising climate of today, it seems more important than ever and worth mentioning again. How you treat a prospective donor and how you build that relationship is what will determine whether they give you a gift. The tactic for soliciting a donor matters, of course, but most people know what they are going to give you before you ever sit down for the ask. The way you steward that donor after the gift will determine whether you get a second gift and how large of a gift you might receive. Solicitations are about sales. You will only get so far in this business if that is how you approach all of your donors. Fundraising is about relationships. Build them, nurture them, make them important and the solicitation will be the easy part.
You’ve been working hard to craft the perfect annual appeal letter and it’s now finished and in mailboxes. It’s time to kick your feet up through the holidays, right? Wrong! Nonprofits that drop their year-end mailing and just wait for money to roll in the door are missing opportunities to secure more cash.
There are three things that all nonprofits should be doing after the appeal goes out the door. First, make sure your appeal is complimented with online materials. Tracking donations and running reports throughout the next few weeks is a must. And following up with past donors you haven’t yet heard from is a way to boost your bottom line.
The cheese shouldn’t stand alone
Even if your year-end appeal is the best letter you’ve ever written, it alone isn’t enough in our technology driven world. While many people will still fill out a response form and stick a check in the mail, more and more people are turning to online donations as their preferred method of donating. Creating an online aspect to your year-end appeal is something all nonprofits should be doing this year.
Online appeals can consist of many different aspects. You can feature an abbreviated version of your letter on your website with the option to make a donation online. Sending an email appeal to previous donors is a great way to get in front of people a second time. Use social media sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn to feature pieces of your appeal with a link to see the full version. Whatever you choose to do, just make sure you choose something. Getting your appeal online will help you reach more people and remind those who have already received your letter that it’s time to give.
Track, track, track
Nobody likes paperwork. We all hate completing reports. Do it anyway. The year-end appeal has a limited window of opportunity. Once the clock rolls over on December 31, the last minute tax incentive for donors ends. Knowing who has given and which of your past donors are missing is important for your next step – the follow up. Make sure you are running reports and thanking donors as the donations come back.
Don’t leave past donors in the past
With all the reports you’ve been running, you already know which of your past donors haven’t responded to your appeal. Follow up with those folks before the end of the year arrives! There are several ways nonprofits choose to do this, but the two most popular options are creating personalized letters and making phone calls.
Don’t resend your appeal letter to donors who didn’t respond to the first one. Create a new, personalized letter to these people. Make sure you include the amount they gave last year and specifically ask them to repeat their gift this year. Make sure you address it specifically to them and not “Dear Friend.” Depending on how many letters you have to send, consider including a handwritten note or at least handwriting the envelope. Personal touches like these are appreciated by donors.
For your top-end donors who have yet to respond to your appeal, make phone calls. Which donors get a phone call will be different for every organization, but a good rule of thumb is to call the top 20% of your donors. Create a script and have your board members help make phone calls. Remember to say thank you when you are talking to donors.
The year-end appeal is an integral part of most nonprofit organization’s annual budget. Making the extra effort after the letters are mailed is just one more way to boost your bottom line.
Are you struggling with your year-end appeal? Not seeing the results you expected? I can help make your appeal a success! Email firstname.lastname@example.org and find out how I can help your organization meet its objectives.
I’m taking a break from blogging this week, but pulled this from the archives of my blog from Neal Schaffer’s WindMill Networking site. Video is a GREAT tool for nonprofits and one that isn’t used enough!
Nonprofits and Social Media: The Power of Video Story Telling
Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) around the world strive to tell their story to potential donors and volunteers every day. We strive to come up with that powerful message that will move people to action. Video is one of the most vibrant ways to paint that picture and create a lasting impact. In the past, NPOs avoided using video because it was expensive to create and challenging to broadcast. New technology and the onset of social media have changed all that.
Creating video has never been easier. Just about every cell phone comes equipped with a video camera these days and free editing software is available online and through software packages purchased with new computers. Windows Movie Maker is one example of software that will walk you through the process of using your photos and video clips to make a movie. The sky is the limit when it comes to creating unique ways to tell your story.
Shared accountability is one of those phrases that could be a buzzword if it wasn’t such a large part of the success of nonprofit organizations. It’s a phrase that is too easily glossed over by staff and a phrase that holds the key to meeting your mission.
Everyone on your staff needs to understand shared accountability and why it is necessary to be successful. As nonprofit leaders, we are charged with teaching volunteers to embrace the idea of being held responsible without making them feel like they report to us – because they don’t. Staff members can’t blame volunteers when things go wrong and we have to give them all the glory when they go right. We have to get them to own the goals and be willing to do whatever it takes to get results. None of these things are easy, so why don’t we just take charge and hold ourselves accountable?
Why shared accountability is important for your staff
Shared accountability is a huge factor in the success of anything a nonprofit does. If staff members own an event, a goal, or a program in its entirety it won’t be long before that person is the only one left standing. Volunteers who aren’t invested won’t stick around for long.
No staff person can meet goals without the help of the board and lead volunteers. Staff members should be held accountable for finding key people and bringing them to the table. The key people at the table should be held accountable for taking the right steps to ensure success. A staff member that is alone at the table will fail. A staff member that fails will leave.
Why shared accountability is important for your organization
In order for an organization to be effective in fundraising they must have good volunteers who accept shared accountability for goals. Without them an organization will not grow. Top level volunteers and board members are involved because they have a link and interest in what you do. More than likely, whatever your organization does impacts them personally. If you don’t get them to accept responsibility, however, you’re left with little more than someone who thinks what you do is a good cause.
Volunteers and board members who aren’t given accountability may care about your mission, but they won’t care how you meet it. Without someone championing the cause and bringing more of the right people to the table, you can’t sustain growth.
A lack of accountability also creates an “us and them” mentality for volunteers. If staff members hold all the decision making power and all the responsibility for meeting goals, your volunteers will start thinking in terms of “us” – the volunteers – and “them” – the staff. Sharing the accountability forms a “we” mindset. The volunteers become a vital part of the organization and know if they don’t succeed, the mission won’t be fulfilled.
Success comes much quicker when a nonprofit has staff and volunteers who are sharing accountability. An organization that has multiple people taking ownership of outcomes will be able to build sustainable programs and long lasting revenue streams.
Are your volunteers and staff holding themselves and each other accountable for goals and success? Find out more about the volunteer, staff and board trainings I offer that will teach accountability and boost success. Email email@example.com and find out how I can help your organization meet its objectives.
Engagement with your audience is such an important piece of what nonprofits should be doing. Whether it’s at the level of discovery, cultivation, or stewardship, organizations need to find ways to interact with people and not just talk at them. Even when you’re attempting to reach a large audience, such as through direct mail, you need to get creative and find ways to make communication a two-way street.
I did this recently with a cultivation mailing that was sent to more than 12,000 households. The desired outcome was to identify possible new donors and cultivate current donors of both large and small gifts. A mass mailing made sense in order to cast a large net, but I knew it needed to be more than just informational. We also needed a call to action that was deeper than just “donate now” and would encourage people to respond.
This particular organization is Catholic and the nuns who founded it have a long history in the community. I decided that the tradition and familiarity rooted in that was perfect for discovery and cultivation. With it being so close to the end of the year and the annual appeal being planned, I knew that we could do a mailing that was more about connection and less about donations; at least on the surface.
The truth is that everything we do is about creating a relationship that will eventually lead to a donation. Sometimes, however, our best bet is to not immediately ask for money and take the time to fully develop a relationship that will result in a bigger gift. I talk more about that in my blog, “To Ask or Not to Ask, That is the Question.”
With engagement as the objective, I wrote a letter to the community reminding them of all the wonderful things the Sisters had done over the years and how they continue to invest time and money here. The letter came from the Board chair and asked people to stop and remember why this organization was important to them and then write a letter to the Sisters to say thank you. We didn’t ask them to send money or come to an event or even send us their contact information. We simply asked them to send a thank you letter to the Sisters.
The response surprised me. The hand written letters full of stories of the Sisters caring for family and friends, the memories people shared of how the Sisters made them feel, and the genuine gratitude people had for what the organization stood for and contributed to the community was inspiring.
It was a feel good moment for the organization and opened a line of communication with people who had a clear interest. It was the best possible lead you could have for donor prospecting. It was an excellent cultivation tool for those who had given a gift and needed to be reminded where that money was spent. And it was above all else, an engagement tool that started many conversations in the community.
Engagement and interaction with potential donors is how you create relationships that bring in major gifts. Determining where the connecting point is for people is how you get engaged donors. Stop and consider what your objective is and then start a conversation with your donors.
Looking for ways to engage with your donors or discover new donors? Find out how I can help your organization get connected to the people who will help you most. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and find out how I can help your organization meet its goals.
Every nonprofit has a manager but does your organization have a leader? Contrary to what many believe, they aren’t the same thing. To manage someone is very different from leading. Leadership is a skill and a talent and one not nearly enough people take the time to learn. Instead we settle for managers who direct and command rather than teach and guide, leaving our organizations with staff who can’t think on their feet or resolve problems on their own.
A lack of leadership in nonprofit organizations is a key factor of underperformance and failure. It creates a weak staff, poor donor development, and an environment based on the ideas and processes of just one person – the manager. In an article published in the Wall Street Journal discussing management versus leadership, Alan Murray points out many differences between the two, including the fact that “managers maintain and leaders develop.” This is significant because it’s the difference between status quo and growth.
Organizations wanting to raise more money, have more successful events, and see growth year over year need to take note of what to look for when hiring a leader.
- Has the ability to check their egos at the door and be a team player
- Teaches people by example
- Empowers employees to think on their own
- Offers insight and advice while allowing people to create their own unique path to success
- Provides the tools and canvas to be successful
- Allows others to take the credit
- Makes you want to exceed goals and be the best you can be without having to use pressure tactics and panic as a motivator
- Focuses on big picture goals instead of micromanaging day to day tasks
I see far too many managers at the helm of nonprofit organizations. They can stifle creativity, require a one size fits all mantra to development, and squash the morale of employees. The key to success starts with leadership and so should your organization.
Is your organization in need of staff development and training? Are you looking for ways to boost morale, get more productivity from staff and develop leaders? Email email@example.com and find out how I can help your organization meet its goals.
The nice folks over at Benchmark Email asked me to participate in their Nonprofit Series with a guest post on their blog. My post “Taking Non-Profit Fundraising Beyond Special Events & Campaigns” talks about ways to pad your bottom line throughout the year without a lot of work. Head over to Benchmark Email and let me know what you think. Be sure to check out the other posts in the series – lots of great stuff!
Many nonprofit organizations are running a very tight ship these days. Organizations with too few employees creating miracles with too few resources on a shoestring budget are a common tale in this business. This produces a need to have everything we do drive us toward a specific goal and ensure our actions have meaningful use. But in a world full of special events, major gift prospecting, grant applications, and a slew of other responsibilities, how do you decipher which actions should be a priority?
When you sit down to create your to do list for the week you may start to feel overwhelmed. Without a doubt you have more things to do than time will allow. This situation calls for quick prioritization and delegation – the two keys for a productive development staff. While I can’t wave a magic wand and finish the stack of paperwork on your desk, I can offer some advice on how to go about prioritizing your list and deciding which items should be delegated.
We hate to admit that some things (and some people) just aren’t as important to meeting our goals as others. But it’s the cold, hard truth and the sooner you accept that and are willing to assign a level of importance to a task, the better off you will be for meeting your goals. To help me prioritize my weekly list, I walk myself through the following:
- Look for deadlines – Is someone waiting on me to finish this project by a certain date they’ve identified? Projects that I have been asked to complete “when you have time” and “as soon as you can” don’t qualify for this category. Arrange the tasks by due date and put everything else after them.
- Will this action directly bring in money? – We all know there is a lot of cultivation and stewardship that has to happen in development. And we all know that those particular tasks may not bring money directly in the door. Look at the tasks that will bring money in immediately first. Are you supposed to call a prospect to set up a solicitation meeting, as well as send a handwritten note updating a donor on the progress of a program? Make the call first. Put all tasks that will directly bring in money at the front of your list.
- Has this item been moved down the priority list more than three times? – Some items will never seem as important as everything else you have going on in the office. That doesn’t mean they can just endlessly stay on your to do list. If you’ve moved an item down the ranks of your priorities more than three times, it’s time to complete the task and cross it off the list.
One of the most important things a development director can do is learn to delegate. The list of people to talk to, meetings to attend, thank you notes to write, and reports to complete are endless and will bury even the best multi-tasker. If you hope to have the most productive week possible, you need to delegate. For those who don’t excel in this department, ask yourself these questions:
- Will someone be offended if I don’t complete this task personally? – We all like to think of ourselves as irreplaceable, but the reality is that just about everything we do can be done by someone else. The big question – especially when interacting with donors and volunteers – is whether or not you will offend someone by asking someone else to do it for you. If the answer is no, then assigning the task to someone else may be appropriate.
- Will the quality of the product/result be diminished by someone else completing this task? – Delegation is only a good option if the person who you delegate to can complete the task as well as you. If you’re the go to grant writer in the office and someone else completing the application will reduce the chances of you getting the grant, then don’t pass this task off to someone else.
- Does your presence (or lack thereof) impact the outcome of this task? – Sometimes you really are irreplaceable. If there is a prospect that needs to be solicited and your presence is likely to sway that person to donating to your organization, then someone else going isn’t an option.
In the lean world of nonprofits it’s not likely you will ever have much free time at the office. Creating a clearly prioritized to do list and learning how to delegate appropriately will help keep you focused and moving toward your goals.
Have your fundraising goals fallen off track this year? Feeling like there’s too much to do and not enough time to execute your fundraising efforts? Learn more about the Jump Start fundraising program and let me help you get organized and back on track. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and find out how I can help your organization meet its goals.
Stop the presses! With only four months left in 2012, nonprofit organizations across the country are scurrying to get their annual appeal letters put together and sent off to donors. Before you go to print, however, it’s important to know whether your appeal has what it takes to capture donors’ attention and bring money in the door.
I recently started several group discussions on LinkedIn about annual appeal letters. It started with looking for top-notch examples I could use as teaching tools but turned into something much broader. The debates over what makes an appeal letter great and what by definition is an annual appeal letter were quick to take over.
What is an annual appeal?
While annual appeal may suggest that nonprofits are only appealing to donors annually, I truly hope that’s not the case. Organizations need to be reaching out to donors multiple times a year and using different styles and approaches for them.
So what is an annual appeal? I use annual appeal and year-end appeal interchangeably. An annual appeal is a donation request sent around the same time every year, most likely at the end of the year. While there are many different approaches to annual appeals, most include a letter from the organization leadership (board chair, executive director, etc.) and a response card/envelope to be returned. The inclusion of a brochure or supplementary piece is acceptable, too.
Amy Eisenstein wrote a blog last week, “Year-End Appeal Letters: 7 Critical Tips,” that gives you some more insights on what your appeal should include and how to go about planning.
What an annual appeal is NOT
While defining what an annual appeal is for nonprofits is a starting point, the more important information, in my opinion, is what it is not. An annual appeal is NOT:
- A newsletter to discuss everything you have done over the past year
You annual appeal shouldn’t be a recap of everything you’ve done over the past fiscal year. That’s what newsletters are for throughout the year. Your annual appeal should highlight what money raised is going to fund and pick a story that touches hearts and shows the impact your organization is having.
- A place to talk about you, you, you
Letters that do nothing but talk about your organization are quickly tossed aside by donors. Make your letter mean something to your donors. Draw the lines for them and show them how what you’re doing impacts them directly. Talk about them, their community, and why giving to you makes their world better.
- A place to tell people all of the horrible things that will happen if you don’t raise enough money
I was horrified to read a letter recently that opened and closed with the statement, “Without your help we will be forced to close our doors and stop providing the services that help our community.” Threats of closure and stopping programs will not motivate donors to give. As a donor I’m thinking that if you’re in a situation that is that extreme, my $100 isn’t going to save you.
How to make your appeal great
While appeal letters vary between organizations, there are certain things that all great annual appeal letters have in common:
- Donor focused
Again, this isn’t the time or place to talk about you, you, you. Make sure that the donor is the focus of your letter. Talk about how your mission impacts them and how their donation will improve their lives. Personalizing the letter instead of using “Dear Friend” is also important. If I’ve given to your organization in the past, I expect that you know my name.
- Tell a story
Letters that do the best job of capturing people’s attention typically have a story of some kind. You can use testimonials from those who have been impacted by your services or tell the story from the writer’s perspective. Whichever you choose, just make sure you create emotion and a reason to care. Including photos of the person at the center of your story is a great way to create that connection, as well.
- Tangible results
The feel good stories are important but they only go so far. You need to talk about tangible things that your organization has done with funds raised. That can certainly be done inside of the story or it can be stated somewhere else in the letter. Don’t create a laundry list of all your accomplishments over the past year. Do find ways to weave in a select few accomplishments that make sense with the tone and theme of your letter.
The end of the year is coming quickly and annual appeals will soon be flooding donors’ mailboxes. How will you make yours stand out this year?
Are you struggling to create an annual appeal that jumps off the page and into the hearts of your donors? Let me help! Email me at email@example.com and find out what services I can offer your organization.