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Spring Forward: 5 Ways to Advance Your Fundraising Now

Posted: 4/26/2021

Click here to read on The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

By Rachel Cyrulnik

As our work transitions and we straddle remote and in-person activities, stewardship and new cultivation, retention and expansion, we must rely on the habits that carried us through the pandemic: strengthening relationships with donors through attentive care, communicating clearly and openly, and making strategic decisions

Days are growing longer, flowers are blooming, and leaves are budding on trees (at least in much of the United States). It seems fitting that the beginning of our emergence from this long pandemic coincides with this season of renewal.

Now is the time for nonprofits to start thinking beyond survival and toward growth, and answer questions such as: Should we increase fundraising goals? Is it crazy to begin thinking about a capital project? How can we shift from playing defense to offense?

This spring is the time to plant the seeds for your post-pandemic fundraising success. Here are a few tips to employ right now so you can reap what you sow in fiscal year 2022.

Schedule face-to-face donor meetings. If it is safe to do so in your area, meet with supporters in person. Donors who have been reluctant to meet during the pandemic may be more open to meeting now ? simply because it feels novel. Grabbing a coffee has never been so exciting. Once officials give an all-clear signal, get back in touch with major donors who chose not to connect virtually during the pandemic.

These meetings present especially valuable opportunities for rich conversations about how views about philanthropy changed during the pandemic. You can spark thoughtful discussions by asking open-ended questions like "How do you think about philanthropy in light of the pandemic?" and "What role has philanthropy played in your life over the past year?"

As to be expected, resuming in-person meetings will start slowly. Take advantage of the spring weather and look for outdoor opportunities to meet. Continue virtual meetings for donors most comfortable with that mode but maintain regular communications with everyone following each donor's preference.

Plan hybrid outdoor events. People are social creatures, and we've all been deprived of in-person interactions for too long. Capitalize on people's interest in gathering this spring and summer by offering safe events, such as bike-athons and walkathons as well as barbeques and outdoor receptions for small groups to cultivate, celebrate, or recognize donors. One of our clients is planning a short reception to thank lead and major-gift donors and to celebrate the achievements of the quiet phase of a centennial campaign. This event will take place outdoors and in shifts.

Stream all live events and continue to offer virtual events as appropriate so more people can participate.

Take advantage of greater giving by lower-level donors. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project of the AFP released a new study showing that giving in 2020 was up 15.3 percent among donors who gave less than $250 and up 8 percent among those who gave $250 to $999, reversing a downward trend from previous years.

This uptick was fueled in part by a provision in the Cares Act that allowed taxpayers to deduct up to $300 in donations without itemizing deductions and by increased awareness of emergency needs and social justice. This tax provision runs through 2021, so nonprofits may continue to benefit.

Online campaigns including crowdfunding efforts target precisely these giving levels, so now is the perfect time to maximize lower-level and midlevel giving. Before you hit send or publish, here are few things to do.

  • Choose a digital platform that enables you to recognize donors, sync with your donor database, and process gifts seamlessly.
  • Develop a clear financial goal for each campaign as well as a punchy call to action that answers these questions: Why should someone give to your cause and why now? How will a gift make a difference?
  • Develop strong messaging and compelling design to inspire donors without requiring much of your time.
  • Share moving stories, impressive statistics, and memorable images to inspire donors to give.
  • Mobilize your lower-level and midlevel donors by asking them to share your campaign with their peers.

Convert pandemic donors to annual donors. Organizations must be proactive to keep new donors engaged and giving. For many, the pandemic and calls for social justice have opened their eyes to philanthropy and the needs it addresses.

Besides the virtual campaign discussed above, what can nonprofits do to ensure new gifts are not a one-time affair? A strong communications plan is required to keep donors' attention. Share impact stories to educate donors on the importance of continued support.

Consider an organization-wide effort to personally thank each new donor your organization acquired in 2020 and convey how much that support means. Depending on your overall giving levels and volume, you could call those who gave $1,000, $100, or whatever level you choose.

At a minimum, donors who have surprised you with a first-time four-figure (or larger) gift should be contacted personally and thanked. For those who gave at lower levels, consider using wealth screening to identify donors who may have the means to give more. Many of our clients are finding that mailing a thank-you note to people who gave new or larger gifts gets noticed and is appreciated during these days of near-constant screen time.

Prepare for capital campaigns. The pandemic put many capital campaigns on ice. If a capital campaign is on the horizon, time your press outreach to coincide with people's return to communal spaces when public buildings will be in use again. Let donors know what you are doing and the results you've achieved to date, your plans for expansion, and how the new building will enable your organization to better fulfill its mission. When the time comes to launch, your audience will be predisposed to giving.

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