‘Tis the Season to Think about ‘The Season’

I received an e-mail the other day offering me “Christmas in July” savings. Odd timing, since I had been thinking about the year-end myself. Because, let’s face it — as fundraisers, the end of the calendar year is never far from our minds since that’s make-it-or-break-it time for most of our organizations (and for some careers, too, but that’s an article for another day).

So, just when you thought it was safe to think about relaxing on the beach with a glass of iced tea and a good novel, allow me to interrupt your blissful thinking with this announcement: There are only 166 days until the year 2014. And what you do over the next several weeks does matter. So here are some things to ponder as you watch the sun slip below the horizon from a comfy chair in your favorite spot for relaxing.

Figure out a plan for maximizing income
I’m not suggesting you prepare yet another spreadsheet showing scenarios with response rates and average gift predictions. Instead, put on your creative director hat. What can you do to communicate your organization’s distinctives — and needs — in ways that truly engage your donors and interested prospects?

What worked last year? What didn’t? What is worth repeating? Doing more of? Not doing again? Did your year-end e-mail produce well? If so, should you send out more? (Several e-mails in December, including multiple ones between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, isn’t unusual — and can give your income a big boost.)

Take a look at what others did, too. What e-mails and mail did you get last year-end that stood out enough to you that you set them aside for future reference? Ask yourself why you found them compelling. And don’t forget to check out what the “big boys” did, too; you may not have their budgets, but you can often adapt some of their ideas to your budget.

If you haven’t been collecting samples or you need more inspiration, check out Who’s Mailing What. It’s a great source of inspiration, especially if you are heading into less-familiar territory. I pulled down several samples of e-appeals (a fairly new addition to the collection) a few days ago, looking for ideas for a new client. After all, successes aren’t always new ideas; they are other’s ideas adapted for your own program. No shame in that.

Start now to overcome the obstacles
As I was about to write an appeal letter for a client a few weeks ago, I was given this caveat: “Oh, by the way, (the letter signer) won’t ask for money.” Uhhhh … that’s a problem in a fundraising appeal letter!

If you have some challenges that are influencing your ability to raise money, now is the time to try to chip away at them. You may not be able to change everything, but you may win some victories that will help you in your fundraising efforts this fall.
Many nonprofits use matching or challenge grants to increase giving at year-end. Now is the time to consider sources for that match. There may be a major donor who would be glad to pledge the challenge if you start now to “prime the pump” with him.

Refine your messaging
What are you asking your donors to support? Is it vague? Uninteresting? Confusing? Lacking the “secret sauce” that makes donors want to donate? This is when you need to look at your message — from the perspective of a donor, not an employee — and see if it needs to be sharpened up.

Watch for weasel words, passionless corporate-speak and vague references to accomplishments. Is your message clear about what you do and why it matters? I recently read online this rationale (and yes, this was all there was) for giving: We are a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. All donations are tax-deductible.”

Yep, you and 1.48 million others.

Last year I wrote about some nuts and bolts to consider as you prepare for year-end. If you’re now humming “Jingle Bells” and answering your phone “Ho, ho, ho,” check it out here and get some more ideas to fuel your year-end readiness.

And meanwhile, enjoy the rest of your summer. We fundraising dogs — old and young — deserve it!

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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