Nonprofits compete in an increasingly challenging development landscape – donor mentalities about giving and what drives their philanthropy is changing, development offices struggle to identify what their priorities should be and how to successfully execute on those priorities to achieve results, and competition is stiff, with the number of nonprofits multiplying at record levels.
As a consulting firm that was founded to address these realities so that nonprofits can realize their missions, RAISE Nonprofit Advisors sees the most vexing fundraising difficulties and guides a diverse set of nonprofits through these issues every day. Our modest Hanukah gift to the field of Jewish philanthropy is our responses to eight such questions, one for each night of Hanukah.
Question #1: How can my organization stand out from the crowd in a competitive environment?
Doesn’t it feel like the rate at which we’re asked to give has increased dramatically in recent years? The channels to give – and the cause-connectors asking you to give – have multiplied. Donors are bombarded with giving requests – walks and runs, 24 or 36-hour matching campaigns and gofundme’s have become old hack. Fundraising campaigns overrun our Facebook and Twitter feeds. Add direct mail and invitations to fundraising events to the mix, and it’s no wonder it’s hard to capture a donor’s attention!
RAISE recommends quality over quantity when it comes to donor communication. Here’s our three-step approach:
1. Assess ROI. Analyze the fundraising communication in which your organization currently engages. What kind of return are you getting? For example, if you send direct mail solicitations before the High Holidays, in December, and before Passover, does one yield better results than another? If a marketing piece is not yielding sufficient results, cut it.
Likewise, assess your response rate from different demographics – do young alumni and millennials respond to email campaigns and empty-nesters respond to direct mail? Tailor your communications to the audiences that respond to them, and leave the rest be.
2. Appeal to the Mind – Give your donors a reason to read your communication. What will they learn that they didn’t know before? How can you demonstrate that they are furthering their philanthropic goals by giving to your cause?
3. Appeal to the Heart – Delight and inspire your donors. Let them hear about your life-changing work from those whose lives were changed. Move them to give and make them feel awesome for giving.
Instead of unsubscribes and unopened envelopes in the trash, you’ll be more likely to get eyeballs and open wallets because your donor will come to expect relevant and meaningful contact from your organization.
How Do I Engage My Board in Fundraising?
Many organizations find it challenging to identify board members who are comfortable with fundraising and therefore will make allowances for board members who won’t raise money. This puts the organization at a disadvantage because it is often board members who have the influence and network to close gifts.
So what is a nonprofit to do?
Don’t fret if you don’t have board members who were born to fundraise – they can be made!
- Set Goals – Set aspirational but realistic development goals when your board member starts her term. Let her know that you’ll be expecting her help in the fundraising process – if she is not ready for solicitations, she can make introductions, engage peers or accompany you on a donor meeting.
- Train Them – Aversion to fundraising is common, but not insurmountable. Enabling the sacred work of an organization with a noble mission is one of the most meaningful and empowering experiences one can have. As the professional, your job to share this perspective with your leadership through one-on-one conversations and group trainings.
- Take Them With You on a Journey – You need your board members’ help – but you need to motivate them to give it. Whenever I present to a board on their roles and the nonprofit’s expectations of them, I first connect it to the bigger challenge: As an organization, how will you get from where you are to where you need to be to realize your mission? Usually, the answer involves resource development. Making this connection for your board members creates ownership, making them more likely to care about the organization’s fundraising success.
- Define Roles – When I discuss board member roles, I also share the roles of all other relevant parties including Executive Director, Director of Development, and Development Committee. This helps the board member to see where they fit into the bigger picture and why their contribution to the team effort is needed.
How do I know someone is ready to make or increase a gift?
This is where the art of fundraising comes into play. But if you don’t just have that amorphous “feeling” that it’s the right time, here are a few pointers:
- Look for Patterns – if it is a repeat gift, look at when the gift was given in the past – if the donor usually gives in December, you’ll want to make sure you reach out before year’s end. Review giving history. If the gift has remained flat for several years, consider asking for an increase. If the donor has increased on her own in the past, she has demonstrated their proclivity to increasing her gift.
- Engage – for both prospective and existing donors whose gifts you wish to increase, present opportunities that strengthen ties to your cause and deepen relationships with your organization’s representatives. I often encounter organizations that expend significant time and energy on identifying and researching prospects, but when they want to ask for a gift, they review their cultivation efforts and come up short. Your donors should have 3-4 positive interactions with the cause before you ask for a gift.
- Listen! You can learn a great deal about how ready your donors feel regarding making a gift by asking open-ended questions about their attitudes toward and impressions of your cause at face-to-face meetings.
- Leverage Events and Milestones – If you’re not sure when to pop the question, events and milestones can be a useful tool and provide a reason for why you’re asking now.
How do I maintain a donor’s interest in giving to our cause over the long-term?
Let’s apply Jewish wisdom to tonight’s burning question. Pirkei Avot teaches that if love is dependent on something, that love will eventually end when the thing upon which it is dependent ends. If it is not dependent on something, it will last forever.
Many organizations with whom I’ve worked have constituents that tend to cycle out – day schools, youth groups, Hillels and many others must deal with participants graduating and moving on – along with their parents, grandparents or other affiliates who supported the cause.
It is a challenge to manage frequently changing donors. We must remember that although a donor may be affiliated through a child, grandchild or his own participation, the organization’s job during the span of active participation is to convert the donor from one whose giving is dependent on something to one who gives out of love for the cause. When one gives because he values the mission, that should not change after the direct interaction as a client or relative of a client has changed. Your donors may not even have thought through why they give to your cause and if and how much they should continue to support beyond the span of their personal involvement. This message is something to be reinforced proactively through face-to-face meetings and regular interaction with donors.
Relationships can get stale, even among the most loyal fans. Keep things interesting for your long-range donors by finding new opportunities for lay engagement – task forces, strategic planning, mentorship of younger leaders or direct field work.
How can my organization get funding from foundations?
Foundation funding is viewed as the Holy Grail for many small nonprofits who have already extensively tapped their pool of individual donors. Grants may constitute a viable revenue stream, but foundation fundraising, much like individual fundraising, requires extensive research, cultivation as well as grant management. Organizations will be disappointed if they expect to hit the jackpot by merely filling out an application.
The most important ingredient in securing foundation dollars is alignment of priorities between your organization and the foundation of interest. Namely, do your mission and activities fulfill the foundation’s strategic priorities? A foundation director once described this concept to me as the overlapping section in a venn diagram between the work of the nonprofit and the goals of the foundation. The larger the “sweet spot,” the more consistent and significant the grants from the foundation will be. And foundations have a keen eye for detecting organizations that are “stretching it” to attract new funding.
Further, as with individual fundraising, identifying personal connections between your board members – or any champions of your organization – and foundation staff or officers can only strengthen your chances of gaining access to the foundation, or, ultimately receiving the grant. Make sure that you regularly run the names of prospective foundations and their officers by your board to turn up any relevant contacts.
Researching your prospective foundations is critical – just as you go to a donor meeting prepared, you will want to know the profile of the typical grantee – mission, activities and budget size as well as the type of grants the foundation makes – programmatic, capacity-building or other.
Cultivation is key – warm up a foundation prospect by having a “get to know you” meeting, sharing relevant news, organizational accomplishments and your vision for the future. Be prepared to explain why you would add value to the foundation’s portfolio and how you would help them achieve their own strategic goals.
Foundations typically demand more in the way of measurement and evaluation than your typical major gift donor. Make sure your organization has the resources to properly manage the grant, including tracking and reporting on impact data, and you’ll be much more likely to have the grant renewed in the future.
How can my organization get funding from corporations?
Much like foundation giving, corporate philanthropy is a popular wish-list item for most nonprofits. While corporate philanthropy is growing steadily each year, it currently comprises less than 5 percent of overall giving in the US. It also requires cultivation and stewardship. These factors should be considered when determining how much priority to place on corporate giving relative to other fundraising initiatives.
Corporate giving frequently revolves around strategic partnerships – where a company seeks to maximize its relationship with a nonprofit to reinforce its brand. In some instances, the corporation may choose a cause it deems important and with which it wants to associate, regardless of the connection to its own products or services.
In other cases, the prospective sponsor is seeking nonprofit partners that are related in some real way to the products and services offered by the company. I recently saw a great example of this while holiday shopping. Nautica, a brand that takes its inspiration from water, has partnered with charity:water to provide clean, safe water to people in underprivileged countries. For many Jewish causes, it can be more challenging to highlight natural relationships to mainstream, household-name brands.
In light of this challenge, leveraging personal connections with for-profit corporations becomes all the more important. Board member and lay leaders with personal relationships to prospective corporate sponsors should act as the solicitor to strengthen the ask. Vendors with whom your organization does business are another potential prospect pool.
Corporate sponsors, like all other donors, will want to get to know your cause and its impact. To best position your cause for sponsorships, begin your engagement several months before the ask and remember to steward your sponsors after they give to keep them close to your cause and informed of your work.
How Should My Organization Approach Data Management To Meet Both Short And Long Term Needs?
Chances are that when the topic of data management arises at most nonprofits, it is met with heavy sighs and rolling eyes. But, mundane as it may seem to on the surface, good data collection and use is at the heart of all successful development programs.
Donors expect a deep relationship with the organizations they support and if you don’t know who they are – not just their names but their families, interests, and connections – then you miss out on opportunities to regularly strengthen those relationships.
And yet, how to gather and manage this important information is a daunting question for many organizations. Like many compelling questions, this one invites further questions: What do I really need? How complex does my data management system need to be? What resources or knowledge is necessary to make it work for me? How do I navigate the growing list of options?
The best approach is to start with what your organization needs, not what it might want. Here are some questions to help guide the process of determining what approach to data management will work best for your cause. And remember: it’s easy to scale up. So start small, and make sure what you are doing works well before you add layers of complexity.
1. What are your human resources?
Even the most easy to use, one-size-fits-all data management software has a learning curve, and implementing software is only half the battle. Keeping it clean and running smoothly and regularly updated is equally as important. Do you have someone on staff with the time to learn the system and teach it to others? Can you invest in regular, ongoing training? Who do you expect will use the system? Professional staff? Lay leaders?
2. What is your budget?
Remember that data software is never a one-time fee. There’s ongoing training, staff time dedicated to maintenance, additional features and services, above and beyond any implementation or subscription costs. Make sure to factor in all these possible incidentals when determining your budget.
3. How good is your data now?
Garbage in, garbage out. If your existing data is a mess, then step one is getting that data clean and up-to-date. Eliminate duplicates and make sure information is accurate, organized, and thorough.
4. What do you really need to know?
What information do you need to have on your donors and prospects? If you’re a school, you’ll want to know the names of current and former students and in which activities they’ve excelled. If you’re a community center, you’ll want to know what programs each family member participated in. If you’re a synagogue, you’ll want to know birthdays and other important anniversaries. Think beyond the basics of contact information and possible wealth capacity. Think about what will help you deepen and sustain your relationship with the donor. What will give you the opportunity to stay in touch and show them you care? Then, look for a system that meets these specific needs and no more.
5. What else does the system need to do?
Does it need to integrate with admissions? With a CRM? With accounting or billing? Does it need to generate letters or integrate wealth screening? How many users will it allow and what control do you have over what they can access? What kinds of reports do you need to run? Can you make changes to the system, like adding fields and creating reports, yourself, or do you need to pay the data company each time you need an adjustment or expansion? Consider all the factors that might be important now and for the next five years.
Once you’ve answered these key questions take a step back and ask “What If?” What if we started with an excel spreadsheet? Do we have someone who can manage a complex excel spreadsheet or could learn to do so with some online training? What if we continued to use our current system but changed our approach? What if we started with a scaled down version of software, or used a new, online-based system instead of one of the larger more complex options?
There are a lot of choices in today’s modern and online-based world. To find what’s best for your organization, make sure to thoughtfully consider all the facets of your needs, resources, and future.
Is it Too Late to Execute a December Giving Campaign?
Procrastination Philanthropy: Changing Tomorrow … Tomorrow.
Procrastination is human nature. That is why about 20% of giving for the entire year is packed into December, the last chance to get a tax deduction for the calendar year.
As fundraisers, we are aware of this pattern and should be planning our End of Year campaigns accordingly, right after the High Holidays. Beginning with creating our list of repeat gifts, donors who skipped last year and new prospects ripe for giving, moving on to scheduling in-person meetings to close gifts, and ending the year with phone calls and personal emails, along with direct mail and eblasts, these months are often the most intensive and productive for nonprofits across the country.
However, if your cause was not able to get in front of December giving this year, it is not too late to capture the most essential weeks and harness them to further your mission.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
There is something magical about December. Aside from charitable giving, people are immersed in generosity and high spirits at year’s end. They are celebrating with their families, exchanging gifts with friends, receiving bonuses, giving tips, and vacationing. This mindset of generosity, along with the deadline of December 31, make it a fortuitous time to ask for a gift – the ask is expected, and people are feeling generous.
Capitalize on the timing, and don’t be shy! In most cases, it’s ok to ask for a gift in an email or leave a message and mention why you are calling. You can be more forward in December than you would be throughout the year.
T Minus Two Weeks: Maximizing End of Year Giving
Even though donors are more inclined to give in December, your organization still needs to make the case for why the dollars should be given to your cause as opposed to another.
- Prepare Bullet Points that demonstrate the impact you’ve achieved over the past year, what your goals are for the coming year and why you need continued support to achieve them. Use these bullet points to guide your calls, letters and emails.
- Plan 2–3 High–Octane Eblasts, and disperse them over the coming weeks, with the last one hitting right before the end of the year. Gather your nonprofit’s creative minds (they may not all work in development) and devise an email series that stands out – it could be funny, emotional or connected by a theme – as long as it grabs your reader’s attention and moves your readership to give.
- Thank donors – reflect your donors’ generosity by sharing personal thank you’s and warm holiday wishes, making them feel great about their support and strengthening your relationships for the coming year.