A, B, C, D: A Quick Refresher Course for Fundraisers

Kids are heading back to school, lodging rates at popular tourist spots are moving back into the range of affordable, and Christmas decorations are on display in some stores. This can only mean one thing—it’s almost September.

And that means just one thing for fundraisers: There are only four more months to make this your best year possible. Four more months to raise money so your organization can do more to fulfill its mission. Four more months to build long-lasting relationships with donors. Four more months to share your story and gain new donors who will help make 2016 great.

What you do in these next four months is vital. The letters you mail, your Facebook posts, your events, your newsletters, your face-to-face visits—all of these and more will have an impact on your final numbers for calendar year 2015. Many organizations “sink or swim” based on income in the last few months of the year; even if your giving is more evenly distributed across the months, year-end is such a natural time for people to make donations for a number of reasons, so you don’t want to squander a day of these last four months.

So, getting back to the basics, here are the A, B, C’s—with D thrown in for good measure—to follow between now and Dec. 31.

Ask. How many times have you heard or read that studies show that one reason people don’t give is they weren’t asked? For seasoned fundraisers this may seem too elementary. But while there are some amazing “askers” out there, too many of us (and I include myself here) have a hard time actually asking. It’s not as natural as breathing—but it is as essential as breathing to our organization.

I’m often asked to critique someone’s fundraising letter, and I grade a lot of papers as I teach fundraising. The two things I see over and over are “failure to ask” and “failure to be proactive.” In other words, we assume the donor knows we want them to give, and we tell them “we’ll be looking for your response,” instead of saying, “I’ll follow up…” or something similar.

In every fundraising effort between now and Dec. 31, ask yourself, “Did I ask for a gift in such a way that it was clear that I wanted the listener/reader to respond with a gift?” and “Did I give them a reason to respond today?”

Be in the mail. Yes, I am an “old dog” and a direct mail aficionado. But the reason is because it works! Many organizations have bought into the reports that say “Direct mail is dead,” and “People only read things online now.” I wish that were true, because we could all save a lot of money.

But it’s not true. Mail is still alive and kicking in the donations. Yet, successful fundraising projects are still being migrated to online only, and income is tanking. Let’s just all get along and agree we need both. Online is not better than mail, and mail is not better than online. Both are opportunities for donations, both matter, and both need to be used between now and Dec. 31. Together, mail and online are a winning combination!

Cultivate relationships. While major donors often (and should) get personal attention year-round, September and October are great times to invest in strengthening your relationships with core donors through phone calls and more personal notes. You may not be able to send a personal message to each one, but you can send an email (or even a letter) that expresses how much you appreciate “donors like you who make all our successes in 2015 possible.”

Make sure you put a few newsletters in their hands between now and the end of the year so they can see that “yes, my donation really does do good.” Add brief inserts to your timely receipt mailings that focus on a result that was possible in 2015 because of their support. In short, let your donors know that their giving matters, not in an abstract way but in a tangible way that is having a positive impact.

Develop a strategy for 2016. You’ll gain new donors at year-end, some former donors will reactivate, and some current donors will upgrade. These are all good things—but they are fleeting unless you have a well-developed plan for cultivating them in 2016 so their year-end giving becomes a habit, not an anomaly.

Part of your plan needs to be effectively receipting them. Receipts will work hard for your organization when they get to the donor in days (not weeks); have a message oozing with gratitude; invite them to stay involved by giving again (soft ask); and provide information on making a gift in honor of someone, including your organization in their will or referring friends (one opportunity at a time, not all at once!). Don’t view a gift as a single occurrence; instead view it as the next step in what is going to be a long relationship that is constantly cultivated and always treasured.

Four more months—120+ days filled with more opportunities to make your donors proud to be supporting your mission. This old dog knows that the hard work between now and Dec. 31 will pay rich dividends now and in the coming year. Here’s to your success as a fundraiser in 2015!

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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