Certainty in Year-End Fundraising During Uncertain Times

By Molly Hansen, Vice President, The Alford Group

The end of the year is around the corner—the single biggest fundraising opportunity of the year! Just how much year-end philanthropic giving will be impacted this year by current events is impossible to know.

In the fundraising forums that I am part of, I often run across the phrase, “We’ve been here before.” I beg to differ! We have not been here before.

Yes, we are weathering the aftermath of 9/11 (still) and we mostly got back on our feet from the Great Recession of 2008. Yet, in 2020 the entire world has turned upside-down with everything happening all at once – a global pandemic that is still plaguing us, economic declines that are bordering on a depression, and particularly in the U.S., loud cries and protests to end centuries of structural racism, brutal violence against people of color and rampant discrimination.

Here is something to remember: though we have never been through this, we do know that donors are generous in times of crisis and need. We know this to be true right now. Donors who are in a position to give have made very generous donations this year and we anticipate this will be true for year-end giving.

How do we approach year-end fundraising in this time of constantly evolving circumstances? What should our messaging be? Where does our organization fit in the mix of those who serve on the front lines of all the challenges?

The most important thing to remember is that you and your organization have a purpose – your mission and vision. You are having a positive impact on people every day. What has been your impact in the last six months? What difference can my gift make today in the lives of the families, children and members you serve?

The best guidance I can offer overall is for organizations to prepare and take action, even if the outcome is uncertain.

The calendar isn’t changing. The end of the year is still just around the corner. Let’s figure out how to do year-end fundraising.

Best Practices:

The second most important guidance I can offer overall is to follow best practices while leaving room for flexibility and creativity.

One thing we have seen over and over again these last many months is that situations can change literally overnight. We have also seen that you can control the things you can control. Best practices constitute the foundation that guides us during a crisis – as the need for certainty grows. We need to work smarter, plan ahead, and be flexible; tell your story, know your donors, weave your donors’ interests into the story, show them the impact of their giving, make the ask, demonstrate deep gratitude and keep your donors close to your organization.

These same practices hold true right now, looking through a new lens of compassion and empathy, showing how your organization is vitally relevant in this time and place.

#1 Make sure your case is compelling and donor-centric

How does our mission contribute to improving people’s lives now? Read your organization’s mission and vision statements from an objective perspective. Consider these questions: What problem is your organization addressing and why is your organization the best to address this problem right now? Why does this problem persist during the current crises? What is essential about your organization in addressing quality of life now and in the future? How are you impacting lives day to day right now? What difference will my gift make today?

A note about donor-centered fundraising: This is not about your financial struggles; it’s about how the donor can help make an impact. Even during these challenging times, do not dwell on how much your organization lost or is needed to balance the budget. Focus instead on the positive impact the donor’s gift will have on your clients, beneficiaries, students, etc.

#2 Don’t put off until tomorrow what is best done today

Create your year-end plan NOW! You will be tempted to wait and see what is different closer to the day of launching your year-end appeal. Do not wait to create your year-end fundraising plan.

  • Plan your appeal as if you are launching within the next month. Get everything in place. It will be much easier to pivot from the plan you have already created than start from scratch two months from now.
  • Consider asking your closest donors to make their year-end gift or pay their 2020 pledge now. This includes board members. Once they’ve made their gifts, enlist them to help. Assist them in setting up a peer-to-peer solicitation. Ask them to write notes. Ask your non-board donors to step in and help you inspire their network to give.

#3 Deepen your relationship with your donors

Solicitation conversations are appropriate. In the words of The Alford Group’s President and CEO, Brenda Asare, “Don’t say ‘No’ for the donor. The answer is always ‘No’ if you don’t ask.”

Staying in touch with your donors will make a difference. You have been checking in with them since March and even before. For your top donors, you know how they have been weathering the storms because you’ve been talking with them. In every conversation, listen intently, practice empathy and you will know whether a donor can make a gift right now. If your solicitation is in an email or direct mail include sensitive language such as, “if you are able to consider a gift right now, your contribution will (state impact).” Don’t hesitate to ask for a specific amount and ask for a specific reasonable increase. Again, don’t say “No” for the donor.

  • Use donors’ names! A special note about written solicitations: if you can’t call people by their names, your chances of getting a gift just dropped. Figure it out. Your donor database should be able to handle this. Make sure every solicitation is personalized. Abandon “Dear Friend!”

#4 A key responsibility of each board member is to engage in fundraising for the organization

Involve the board. Be sure to involve the board in your year-end fundraising. See peer-to-peer fundraising and personal notes above and thank you phone calls below.

#5 Make it seamless and easy to make a contribution

Make sure everything online works perfectly and that you have the people power to appropriately thank donors. Your website and donation page must be current and reflect your year-end campaign. For electronic donations, don’t rely just on your electronically generated acknowledgement – make sure the immediate response is working AND be sure to follow it up with a personalized thank you letter within 3 days of receiving each gift. Engage your CEO, other key staff and board members in making thank you phone calls, notes or emails.

With compassion, empathy and passion

Life is tough in many ways right now. Many people are being hit with the biggest challenges they’ve ever faced. And many people are feeling called to relieve the suffering, right the wrongs and create a new future for those who are suffering. Nonprofit leaders (executives, fundraisers, board members, volunteers) be sure to serve your constituents (clients, families, children, students) with compassion and empathy. Serve each other with compassion and empathy. Focus on your mission and vision and do not be afraid to fundraise.