Don’t Pass Over this Passover Series: The Four Fundraising Questions You Should Be Asking this Spring

Don’t Pass Over this Passover Series: The Four Fundraising Questions You Should Be Asking this Spring

This blog post was orginally published as series at ejewishphilanthropy.

The strategic development firm that brought you “Eight Burning Questions for Eight Nights of Hanukkah” is back by popular demand with “The Four Fundraising Questions You Should Be Asking this Spring,” providing vital help for your fiscal campaign close.



Question #1What’s the Best Plan of Attack for A Successful Campaign Close?

With freezing temperatures and snow storms still popping up on the weather reports in many parts of the country, it is hard to believe that spring is beginning this week! Soon enough though, Passover will end and we’ll be racing through one of the busiest times of the year.

Development officers working for organizations running on fiscal calendars often lament the long hours and pressure that accompany the otherwise pleasant months of May and June. It doesn’t have to be so painful! With a little advanced planning, you can end the campaign year on a strong note, and without too much angst. Now is the time to begin warming up for your organization’s fiscal year-end push. (Just what you wanted to hear the week before Passover).

Send Holiday Greetings.

It is always busy before holidays, but it is very worthwhile to clear the time to wish your donors a Chag Sameach before Passover. Many organizations will send a postcard or an e-blast with holiday wishes, a recipe or even a small keepsake. Even if you have not been working on a more involved gesture, a simple call or email sending warm wishes this week or next will do the trick. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – no one wants to feel like an ATM machine, with whom you check in for money when you need it. Holidays are a terrific opportunity to strengthen donor relationships without so much as a mention of money.

After the holiday, it is time to get down to business!

Start with Data.

You need to have an accurate picture of where your organization stands before you dive in. Where is your fundraising revenue relative to your June 30th goal? Where is it compared to this time last year? Which constituencies need the most attention? How many higher level gifts are outstanding, and at which levels? How many and which donors gave by this point last year that have not yet given this year? Whose gift took longer to close last year? Who are new prospects that might need more time to decide on whether they’ll give and at what level? This data may take time for you to run, so now is the time to begin setting up and generating reports.

Set Goals.

Use this information to map out your priorities and create goals and a corresponding timeline for the coming weeks. For example, while focusing on larger gifts first will of course help you cover more of the gap between where you are and your goal, while starting with new prospects and gifts that take longer to close will best position their fulfillment by June 30. Give your organization ample time to balance these competing considerations.

Setting goals for each month and even each week will help keep you on track to close as much inventory as possible. Set aggressive but realistic goals for number of gifts closed, dollar amount, and number of meetings.

Get Some Facetime.

Face-to-face meetings are the most effective method of closing gifts. Start scheduling them now for after Passover so you can accomplish more once the holiday ends. Toward the end of the campaign, you may have too much volume for face-to-face meetings and will be forced to rely on calls and email, so make sure your early meetings are strategic – large gifts and those with a likelihood of sizeable increases.

Utilize Lay Committees.

I often find that lay leaders with limited time will make a special effort to close gifts if they know they’re working on a short-term project with an end date in sight. Gather your committee together to rev them up and assign solicitations, and then check in with them regularly to keep on top of progress. Depending on your organizational culture, creating internal contests for a fun prize can keep up the motivation and morale.

Take Breaks.

A few years ago, I wrote a piece for this publication called “Can’t A Fundraiser Catch a Break?” which provides tips for weathering the pressures of a demanding development post, where exceeding last year’s goals is the expectation each year. Reserve time for your family and your health. Take strength from your team, your organization’s missions and of course, the clients whose lives your work is improving. Maybe even go on a site visit to visit recipients to remind you why you chose this line of work in the first place…

Question #2: How Can I Maximize ROI at our Annual Spring Gala?

If an annual gala is a staple on your nonprofit’s calendar every spring, you are not alone. If you’ve decided to host a dinner as a last-ditch effort to reach a campaign goal, you are also not alone! Events require a real investment of resources, how can you make sure that you employ yours to maximize your development efforts before the summer break and ensure a strong return on investment (ROI).

1. Pay attention to peoplenot just dollars. In addition to raising new funds, events can broaden your donor pool. Honorees may be new prospects themselves, or they might bring new prospects connected to them, including family, friends and business associates. Choosing the right honoree is essential; they should be willing to leverage their networks in support of your organization. It is the fundraiser’s job to identify, research, and cultivate these new prospects so they become more than a “one and done” attendee at your dinner. Moreover, the event can be a great conversation opener for the next touchpoint.

2. Look for a “hook” to attract new prospects. An engaging activity or an exciting speaker makes it easier for your existing lay leaders to invite friends and new faces to a fun night out in support of a great cause. Inviting a friend or colleague to an exciting event is a much easier task than asking them to sit down to an in-person meeting with a development professional.

3. Events open the door to corporate sponsors. When it comes to events, corporations should be at the top of your list as they have high capacity and often have a predetermined budget set aside for charity. Honorees should include any connections they have with corporations along with their contact lists. Savvy nonprofits will also strategically approach select corporations whose products/target audience is in line with your event attendees and organizational mission.

4. Acknowledge donors. While collecting individualized ads and messages can be time consuming, the cost is minimal in comparison to how much you can bring in from a tribute journal or roll of honor. Recently, trends are leaning toward a digital journal and large screens listing donor names and levels, but if you go this route be sure to print out enough hard copies so that your honoree, dinner chairs, and your organization can always have one or two for memory’s sake and for reference for future planning.

5. Emotional stories raise money. People are most inclined to give when they feel a strong emotional connection. If beneficiaries of your organization’s services are able to attend, ask them to speak about how the organization has helped them, or show a moving two-minute video about your organization’s impact and have your most dynamic lay leader make a pitch immediately after. Depending on the organization and your crowd, this is an opportunity to do card calling/collect pre-assigned envelopes that were on attendee’s chairs/table and/or have a major donor stand up and make a matching gift offer.

6. People love to win. Holding a silent auction adds an element of fun to your event and is another opportunity to raise funds from the evening.

While lay leaders can often bring in a few items from their connections, and corporations may donate in-kind services or items, an interesting twist to the concept auction is utilizing handmade items from your nonprofit’s recipients. For example, if your organization supports children (local day school or social service program), have the recipients create handmade, one-of-a-kind artwork that can be displayed during your cocktail hour and subsequently put up for auction. This is a way to showcase your recipients and organization and also serve as another source of dollars raised at your event!

Another route to showcase your recipients is to have them serve as ushers at the event or even perform as your musical entertainment if they have that talent.

7. People love swag (especially when it is free). Leave your guests with something to remember you. You can build long-lasting goodwill with your donors by giving them a memorable and useful swag bag that will leave them feeling great about your organization. Any small gift works as long as it has your logo on it! A mug/water bottle or flash drive with your logo is an opportunity for you to keep your organization’s name and fundraising goal in the forefront of your attendees’ minds long after they leave your event and grabs you a spot in their home and daily lives. Moreover, branded swag is heightened brand awareness. When your donors place your car magnets on their bumpers, they’re spreading your name to new potential donor prospects.

8. Its not over ‘til you follow up. As stressful and time-consuming as a major event can be, it can be tempting to simply move after the big day. But if you’re not connecting with your community, following up and learning from your results, you are missing out.

  • Be sure to send a thank you email with pictures from your event to all RSVPs (attendees and those that donated but could not join) and hyperlink to your webpage and “donate now” button.
  • Don’t forget your corporations! Send thank you notes to your contact there and, if possible, to their supervisors as well. These relationships are just as important to maintain as those with individual donors.
  • Call and/or send a handwritten personal thank you to the honoree. Be sure to share with them a number of photos of them and their families. If you are able to, frame the best photo and hand deliver to them as another opportunity to say thank you after the event. If you don’t have a good photo, consider framing the event invitation with their name displayed.
  • Get some press! Try to get written up in a local newspaper or community publication. Having a great photo from the event and including some “movers and shakers” in your audience will help get you published. If you do indeed make it into your local newspaper, be sure to get a copy of it, laminate/frame it and send to your honoree. And save one for your organization too!
  • Set a goal for ten to twenty face-to-face meetings with prospects and donors who came to the event and continue the conversation with them about your organization and how they can help.
  • Asses success by measuring actual numbers against goals and after a team discussion, document what can be improved for next year or the next upcoming event. Make sure you track time spent organizing the event in addition to materials costs, as the cost of staff time is an important part of assessing a good ROI.

Question #3: How Do I Handle the Sensitive Solicitations I’ve Been Avoiding All Year?

By nature, humans procrastinate. Especially when the task at hand is challenging in some way, we have a tendency to avoid it. And avoidance is a very tempting option! While it may be effective in the short term, it often makes things more challenging or complicated in the long run. As a fundraiser, you may find yourself coming to the end of the fiscal year with your most sensitive donor scenarios still untouched.

When Rachel began her fundraising career, she learned from a seasoned development professional who used to talk about “the D’s of Development” – death, divorce, disease, disgrace, and discharge. What should a fundraiser do about asking for a gift when the donor is grappling with a traumatic life event?

1. RelationshipsRelationshipsRelationships. They are to development as location is to real estate. This general foundation will come in especially handy in dealing with sensitive situations. Even the most socially and emotionally intelligent fundraiser would be hard-pressed to pull off a solicitation of a donor who recently experienced a trauma without dipping into the relationship capital piggybank he developed during smoother times. Gift amounts may ebb and flow, but the relationship should be the constant variable in the equation.

A little effort – showing you care enough to spend the time and energy – can go a long way. Make it a habit to have regular check-ins. Be sure to reach out when they have a family celebration and wish them congratulations. Optimal frequency of course varies with each donor, but bottom line: your donors should hear from you before you need something from them.

2. Due Diligence. As a fundraiser, you always try have your finger on the pulse of your constituents’ communities, networks, and social circles. This intelligence-gathering will help you better size up the situation and assess whether it is a good time to reach out or not.

3. The Gift of Giving Back. Big life transitions cause anxiety, and a force that can buffer against that stress is the opportunity to have purpose and meaning in life. In some cases, giving charitably may be just the thing a donor needs at the time. Others may be less financially capable, and for these cases, the successful fundraiser must acknowledge that the person’s situation has changed, express appreciation for past giving, and identify other ways the donor can volunteer or contribute.

4. Acknowledge the Elephant in the Room. Be honest with yourself – ask yourself why you aren’t addressing the elephant in the room. Most of the time the answer will lead you to your own anxiety, because it makes you feel uncomfortable. It is imperative to push yourself out of your comfort zone and to opt to take a more difficult but mature approach, acknowledging the major life event, loss, or hardship with which your donor is coping. Once you have acknowledged it (thereby validating it), the ball shifts back to the donor’s court either to engage in further conversation or simply to thank you for your kind words and move on.

Something as simple as, “I’m sorry to hear about you and Cindy. I hope you’re doing ok.” Wait, and see if the donor wants to take up your implicit invitation to discuss the issue further. In almost all cases, you will leave the conversation feeling better for having acknowledged it. This is good practice for both personal and professional relationships.

If you find yourself in a situation that warrants broaching a difficult topic with the major gift donor and find yourself struggling, do some a research. There are an abundance of resources available in print and online on how to address death, divorce, illness, job loss and other hardships those around you may be facing. If you are unsure of what to say or how to say it, it can be tremendously helpful to use psychological resources to guide you.

5. The Long Game. As a fundraiser, you may have been anticipating a gift that is now in question, and the truth is it is a real let-down not to hit your fundraising goals. But you must use your best judgment. If it’s an inappropriate time to reach out, don’t do it. Fundraising is about partnerships and empowering people to feel good about their generosity. It is a poor reflection on yourself and your organization if you lack tact or sensitivity. Think about the longer-term investment. Treat major gift donors like major gift donors, even if they aren’t giving a large gift that year, and they will feel more validated and will be more generous when they get back on their feet.

Question #4: How Do I Set the Stage for a Productive Summer?

Who doesn’t love summer? Beach, pool, ice cream … campaign planning and donor meetings? Fundraising may not be the first thought that comes to mind when conjuring up images of summer – after all, many donors are on vacation mode, and with campaign close dates so far away it’s common for nonprofits to dial back the pace at the office.

Yet, the quieter summer months should not be squandered. They are the perfect time for performance evaluation, making progress on important initiatives that went disregarded during the year, and building donor relationships.

Channeling Steven CoveyFocus on What’s Important 

One of the foundational principles in Covey’s landmark book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is time management. While there is much to say about Covey’s construct and its application to development work, he makes a fundamental point in drawing a distinction between the terms “urgent” and “important.” Urgent items must be dealt with immediately, and important items are defined as key to your existence and ability to thrive. An item can of course be both urgent and important – and that combination is where most reasonably productive people naturally spend their time. Covey points out that to make real progress on long-term goals, however, we need to clear time to focus on important tasks that are not urgent. The back burner issues.

Most months of the fundraising calendar are consumed with urgent items – closing gifts, running events, managing campaigns. The summer is the perfect time to pay attention to important back-burner issues – for instance, reviewing performance, brainstorming new initiatives, retooling your giving levels and benefits, assessing ROI of events and direct marketing during the year, or creating a social media plan.

Start Your Summer ToDo List Now

Post-Passover through June 30 is a particularly busy time for many nonprofits. When something important but non-urgent arises, write it down and compile a list so you can give it the attention it deserves in the summer.

Planning: “Whats the use of running if you are not on the right road?

Keeping up with the frantic pace of the year often precludes us from asking the basic question, “Are we headed in the right direction?” The slower pace and warm summer weather make the summer the perfect time to clear minds and plan for the campaign year ahead.

A staff retreat is a great way to get out of the office, start the creative juices flowing, and build consensus around goals and strategy. Once you have the tenets of a plan in place, take the opportunity to invite your lay leadership to give input.

Set quantitative goals around projections and qualitative goals around communication, lay participation in committees, and events.

Donors with Vacation Brain Can Still Be Engaged!

We often hear from clients that donors are away during the summer, and they are going to wait until the year starts to set up meetings. Then the year starts and suddenly it’s High Holiday season. It could be months before you can set up meetings, and by then, people are busy with everything they’ve put off.

Meet donors where they are – literally! Ask them for an outdoor lunch or golf or a manicure if you are friendly enough with them. If you have a cluster of donors with summer homes in a particular area, pay them a visit. For example, “I’ll be in the Hamptons on Tuesday next week! Can we get together?” In this way, you will be strengthening the relationship with multifaceted cultivation points.

Show Off Your Organizations Work

Lastly, the summer could be a great time to showcase the vital work your nonprofit provides to its recipients. Nothing can replace seeing the impact of youth summer programs, camps, and programs for the elderly firsthand. Donors may be able to leave work early or take off on a Friday to join a site visit. Schedule these outings in advance, because once the summer hits, it will be hard to compete with the myriad of alternative options.

King Solomon (and The Byrds) had it right when they said “To everything there is a season.” As you progress through the last quarter of this campaign and begin to plan for the next, the balance of your efforts will shift, but it will be your creative ideas, consistent project management, excellent stewardship and careful evaluation that will yield the results you seek. All in the right time.