Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

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by Alyssa Conrardy and Walker Post

Nonprofits lost billions of dollars when coronavirus upended their fundraising and operating plans this spring. Now, we’re more than halfway through 2020, and many nonprofits are in sink-or-swim territory. Budgets are tight, and this year-end fundraising has to work in order for many to stay afloat next year.

Whatever a nonprofit’s plans to generate financial support may have been, it should be reevaluated — not next month, next week or tomorrow — today! There’s no time to waste in creating a fundraising strategy and approach that will give your nonprofit the resources it needs to maximize its impact in 2021. Organizations must be agile, innovative and digitally-focused in order to be successful in their #GivingTuesday and year-end fundraising.

The landscapes of fundraising and grantmaking have changed dramatically over the last few months. Here are the approaches nonprofits should consider adopting to improve their chances of year-end fundraising success in 2020.

Adjust Year-End Messaging Cadence and Content

You may not want to hear this, but fall is closer than you think. That means your year-end campaign, which should run from October or November through January, is right around the corner. Here’s where to start.

Flesh out the fundraising strategies you intend to deploy, and create a fundraising calendar to turn it into a digestible plan of action. Consider starting with direct mail, email and social campaigns. But before you begin drafting your campaign pieces, take a step back and remind yourself how much has happened in 2020. You’re going to have to adjust what and how you communicate to your stakeholders.

Addressing COVID-19 and Race Equity

Ask yourself: “How many of the conversations I’m having daily circle back to COVID-19 and/or race relations in the U.S.?” The answer is likely most of them. These are two of the biggest challenges facing our world today, and your nonprofit should get comfortable addressing both. This falls not only in the conversations you should be having daily with all stakeholders, but also in the year-end fundraising campaign messaging.

For COVID-19, you might adjust your messaging to focus on the impact COVID-19 has had on your organization in the short and long term. What difficult decisions have you been forced to make? Many nonprofits’ budgets are dwindling, but don’t let that be a sign of weakness. Instead, use it as a way to unite donors and explain to them that their donation would help you keep your doors open and support those you serve. You should also take time to explain how COVID-19 has increased the demand for your programs or services, if in fact that is the case.

While your COVID-19 messaging might focus on the impact the pandemic had on your nonprofit, you can flip the switch when discussing race equity and highlight what you are doing to make a difference. What are you doing to advance diversity, equity and inclusion on your team and in your community? Are you stepping up to support Black individuals and businesses? Your donors want to know where you stand on the issue and if you can make a compelling case for your nonprofit as an ally of race equity.

Prioritizing the Digital Touchpoints

When you think through what’s going to get a donor to send money to your nonprofit, consider the journey you’re taking them on. If you make too many donation requests too close together without taking care to build a dialogue, you could risk losing their support. You need a carefully crafted campaign that takes them through a logical journey toward giving. If you were to put a potential new donor through a year-end email campaign, it might look something like as follows:

  • Build awareness in October: Introduce (or re-introduce) the potential donor to your organization, its mission and goals through the end of the year. The goal isn’t to get them to donate, yet. It’s to build trust, get your foot in the door and make sure you’re top of mind.
  • Inspire in November: Highlight some of the amazing work your nonprofit has done this year with succinct storytelling. You can also include compelling stats your organization has collected on its impact and a brief letter from your CEO.
  • Convert to donations in December: Make your appeal as to why they should donate to your organization. Highlight any other fundraising hooks you might have, such as a virtual fundraiser or a corporate match.
  • Thank in January: Don’t delay your stewardship activities until later in the year. Make sure to thank those who gave right away in January and keep them engaged into the new year.

Through carefully crafted digital campaigns and timely messaging that addresses how your nonprofit is navigating COVID-19 and race equity, you can differentiate your nonprofit as one being worth a donor’s time and resources.

Explore Virtual Fundraising as a Replacement to In-Person Events

A staggering 73% of nonprofits have seen a decline in contributions this year. While direct mail, digital and email campaigns are a great place to get started in making up for lost donations, it may not be enough for some nonprofits. That’s why you may need to consider hosting a virtual fundraiser. Here are the five steps you need to take to set yourself up for success if you’re planning one.

Configure Your Team

Ask yourself: “Who still has a purpose on your fundraising team and whose role needs to change?” You may need new resources, which could come internally through volunteers or through professional support, such as a fundraising consultancy or a tech firm. Lastly, decide on a schedule for meetings — the more often the better. If your fundraiser is less than 30 days away, meetings should be daily.

Choose Your Model, and Plan Your Program

Consider first if your fundraiser will take the form of a live online event or a giving period.

If you prefer a live event, consider some of the program elements you might include: presenters, a paddle raise, a live auction or a raffle. Practice dry runs of the event to ensure everyone involved in presenting and operating is comfortable with the technology. We’d recommend not making the event longer than 90 minutes.

If your team would rather go the direction of a giving period, consider add-ons like a silent auction, a matching day, peer-to-peer fundraising or corporate matching. For your nonprofit to pull this off, you’ll need strong email and social media marketing to attract donors to the activities. You’re better off not making the giving period longer than a week.

Choose Your Technology

For a live online event, you’d do well to use a platform like Zoom or GoToWebinar. If you prefer to take the giving period approach, use a fundraising platform like Classy or GiveGab.

Build Your Budget, and Set Your Goals

If you had a previously canceled in-person fundraiser, you can make easy adjustments to prepare for a virtual one. Start by taking your previous event costs, subtract any refundable expenses due to canceling like food and venue and add in any new expenses like tech and marketing.

To set your goal for the net amount raised at the virtual event. Take your previous gross revenue goal, subtract the new event budget, and multiply the difference by 80%. It’s unlikely that you’ll raise quite as much as you would in person. You can expect about 20 percent less, generally, but you’ll be spending less as well.

Communicate and Market the Event

Lastly, it’s time to spread the word. Whatever your channel may be — email, social or text message campaigns — you can use the digital touchpoint recommendations above to spread the word. Generate awareness about the event, inspire people to attend by teasing some of the presenters or activities you’ll offer, and convert them into sign-ups.

With this strategy, you’ll be well on your way to successfully hosting a virtual fundraiser.

Capitalize on the Changing Grantmaking Landscape

COVID-19 disrupted the grantmaking landscape, but if you’ve been following the nonprofit media’s coverage of this change, you’ll know it might be to the advantage of many nonprofits. As you explore your year-end fundraising options, you should absolutely continue to apply for grants, which may unlock new opportunities for your nonprofit.

Seven hundred and seventy eight nonprofit funders and organization leaders recently signed the Council of Foundations pledge committing to rethinking how nonprofits get funded and how grant money is spent. A few of the pledges include loosening restrictions on grants, relaxing reporting requirements and recognizing that they need to empower nonprofits to do what they think is best for their organizations and stakeholders. This backseat approach many foundations and philanthropic leaders are taking is an exciting shift in the dynamics of grantmaking.

One excellent model of how more foundations should work is the Ford Foundation and its BUILD Grantees. Ford offers five-year general operating grants with capacity-building to support nonprofits advocating for social change. Through their approach, accountability is re-proportioned, nonprofits have greater control of their resources, financial security allows for some risk-taking and funder confidence is leveraged across the grantee network.

This is a brighter future for grantmaking, and it’s coming in one of the scariest times in the history of nonprofits. Before 2020 comes to a close, seek out foundations that committed to the pledge above or ones similar to the Ford Foundation.

Remember You Can’t and Shouldn’t Do This Alone

There are countless year-end fundraising strategies for your nonprofit to consider, and it may seem overwhelming. However, you can find support everywhere you look. Don’t consider other nonprofits to be your competitors. They can be your collaborators, and you might find that a fundraising campaign works best when you partner with another organization. You can also reach out to experts in fundraising and communications if you simply don’t have the time to execute on the strategy or campaign yourself.

Best of luck with your year-end campaigns!

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