Fundraisers, Start Your Engines

Over the past several months, we have spent a great deal of time talking about how best to identify, recruit, engage, onboard, develop, and retain professional leadership for your organization. Now, those leaders must begin thinking about raising money for the operation of your nonprofit.

Planning Starts Now

With many of our clients, we have already begun preparing for end-of-year giving.

With many of our clients, we have already begun preparing for end-of-year giving.

That’s correct. It is the beginning of June — seven months from the end of the year — and I am here to tell you that if you have not yet begun planning how you are going to capture all the gifts you are accustomed to receiving in the last six weeks of the year, you are, to coin a phrase, tardy to the party.

To increase the possibility of success you should begin planning now: at least half of what you will achieve is dependent on your strategic thinking and tactical planning in the coming weeks.

Fundraising Has Gotten Harder

According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the data makes this abundantly clear:

  • Each year, in the aggregate, there are fewer donors than gave the year before.
  • Among those who do donate, they make fewer gifts for smaller amounts.
  • Donor retention is at an all-time low and the renewal of first-time donors is absolutely abysmal.

I share this not to depress you. Rather, to grab your attention and assure you that if you think about how to retain and upgrade donors now, you can be successful in swimming against the tide.

In future articles we are going to focus on different segments and offer specific suggestions for how to work with them. These may include:

  • Major donors — the definition of which varies by organization
  • First-time donors — how to ensure you get the next gift from them
  • Underperforming donors — those who support you regularly and faithfully, but have stayed in the $100 range for the past decade (or longer)
  • Mid-level donors — those who make gifts of $250 or $500, but have the capacity to give more frequently and in larger amounts

But don’t wait for MJA to talk about it. If you think in these specific donor segments, you can then develop strategies and tactics (emails, newsletters, calls, events, etc.) appropriate for each group. By organizing your approach and resources in this way, you will have the bandwidth necessary to plan, test, and adjust as needed.

Four Essential Guidelines

For now, let me share some things that will inform and improve your planning…

#1. Focus on the relationship, not the money. 

Donors are people; they seek affiliation with something beyond their own immediate needs. If you are successful in connecting them to your mission and helping them see the value they can provide in furtherance of your objectives, they will give joyfully.

But, if you simply say, “You gave $100 last year, can you give $150 this year?,” they will conclude that to you, they are nothing but a human ATM.

#2. Communicate in a donor-centered, not organization-centered way.

You are passionate about your organization and its mission. It has needs, financial and otherwise. So you think you must focus on helping donors understand what those needs are.

But donors want to know what they can do to help solve the problems your organization exists to address.

As you create a case for giving which will inform all your solicitations, newsletters, brochures, and acknowledgements, make sure it is primarily about the donor, the cause, and the important role they will play should they decide to support it.

#3. Pay special attention to past donors who have not given in the previous 12–24 months.

It can cost four to five times as much to acquire a new, first-time donor as it does to renew an existing donor or revive a lapsed donor. Those who have stopped giving recently — in the past year or two — are most likely to give again.

Spend time trying to understand why these once-valued supporters have stopped giving and focus on bringing them back into the fold.

#4. Create a culture of philanthropy. 

This has two components: Asking and Giving.

Asking: Many donors don’t give because they don’t think they are being asked. For them, a text, email, or even a USPS letter is not enough. They need personal engagement on a one-to-one level.

Giving: Once someone has given, don’t think you are done with them until next year. You owe them acknowledgement and expressions of appreciation that inform them of their impact in ways that recognize them as the true heroes of your organization’s mission.

It’s a Different World

When I first began fundraising, the focus was almost entirely on major donors and the acquisition of new donors. We did not give much thought to retention because we didn’t have to: Eight of every ten donors renewed their support each year and more than half of first-time donors made a second gift.

Today, according to the benchmarking of the Fundraising Report Card, fewer than 35% of all donors renew their support from one year to the next; fewer than 20% of first-time donors make a second gift.

Philanthropy has become a leaky bucket. There are many reasons for this, but the fact remains that for your organization to reach its ambitious year-end goals, so that you may continue to serve those people and causes you hold dear, you must think strategically, work diligently, and create a detailed written plan NOW.