Fundraisers: Prepare for the Next 503 Days

By my calculations, in 503 days, it will be over. No, not the world or even the Star Wars saga. What I am referring to is the 2016 presidential campaign. (For my non-U.S. readers, please indulge me this week. I’ll get back to more universal topics after this digression.)

Regardless of whom you support or what issues matter to you, one thing is true for every fundraiser: We’re going to have a lot more competition as first the primary season and then the general election race gears up. Political action committees are going to be vying for donated dollars, and with a crowded race, there will be many voices crying out for funding. On a lesser note, even Facebook will become less fun (in my opinion), as people try to sway my opinions by posting articles, photos, jabs and jokes. I shudder to even think about my Twitter feed.

Let me set the record straight—I care about the election, and I will consider issues and candidates, and I will vote. But I know from experience that we will need to work harder in the months leading up to a presidential election to capture the hearts (and donations) of supporters and prospects. So while there’s still time to plan for the onslaught, start fine-tuning your fundraising machine now so you aren’t left behind in the 2016 campaign trail dust.

Try out new acquisition strategies this fall and next spring so you have proven efforts to use in fall 2016. What will give you the best chance of breaking through the mailbox and inbox clutter? Sharpen your acquisition efforts, especially those that involve mail, email or phone, so your message will stand out in a crowd.

Stick to your message
A lot of issues are going to surface (and resurface) in the next 503 days. Whenever a message seems to be resonating with the American people, some nonprofits try to jump on the bandwagon, as it were. “Oh, oh! We can do that, too!” is the battle cry. At best, you end up with donations without programs to invest them in. At worst, you end up with confused donors who think you have abandoned what drew them to you in the first place. Refine your message, but don’t let it drift to mimic “everyone else.” Stick to your knitting, as the idiom goes.

Be interesting to your donor or prospect
Yes this applies every day, election or not. But unfortunately, some fundraisers are still talking to themselves. “We do this, we handle that, we’re taking care of it. . . .” Where do I, the donor, come into that sentence? Just as bad is meandering down Organizational Lane, forgetting that donors want some sizzle—they want to feel excited about supporting your cause, not hear about your operations. Always focus on what my gift will do. It may only be $10 or $50, but I still want it to matter—so prove to me that it does.

Additionally, fill your Facebook feed with posts that are uplifting, challenging, exciting, focused on your accomplishments and heartwarming—posts that are worth reading and sharing. Become the place for relevant posts that make followers proud to be affiliated with your nonprofit organization.

Stay in front of your donors
When “everyone” else is demanding attention, it’s tempting to cut back and figure you will catch up after the noise diminishes. But neglect can lead to attrition. What you really want are highly committed donors who will stand by you when everywhere they turn, a candidate is begging for their attention. To have highly committed donors in fall 2016, you need to invest in relationship building, beginning today. We all are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of marketing messages every day. The ones I pay attention to are the ones that matter to me. Make sure you matter to your donors by communicating with them just as if they were your best friend—because that’s what they really are.

This old dog promises that I won’t spend the next 503 days talking about the election. But I did see a campaign sign already today that reminded me that before too long, we’ll have that much more competing with our fundraising messages. So let’s use the next several months to sharpen our skills and our tools, and make sure the real winner at the end of 2016 is the mission we work every day to advance.

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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