Now is a great time to put your fundraising creative on the table, sweep away the cobwebs and polish up the diamonds.
Carving out some time for a creative review is how you grow as a fundraiser. You often end up doing more than tuning up your winners and retiring flagging workhorses. A concentrated burst of critical thinking also pushes up new ideas and arguments that go on to energize your entire organization.
Before you get started, remember to switch bodies with your target donor and judge everything you read, watch and feel through their eyes. This is never about you.
Motivation. Are you still reflecting the true reasons people support your work? Five years ago, most people probably saw your cause differently. Are you accounting for their changing perceptions and how they impact someone’s motivation for giving?
Brand. All organizations are fluid and their personalities change over time. Do you still sound like you? Not the 2015 model. But the relevant, contemporary 2016 version.
Impact. When you show donors what their generosity can achieve, make sure your examples are current.
Attitude. Most creative executions pass through a review committee. Over time, the revisions of the group undo the craft of the individual writer who gave your message the right attitude and credibility. As you refresh your creative, be sure to bring back your passion or conviction or whatever qualities your donors love you for.
Tactics. Running a matching gift offer for the fifth year in a row? Promoting the same member benefits as last year? Doing the same thing over and over isn’t compelling. Test something new.
Above all, be ruthless. If someone says: “But we’ve always done it this way,” politely remind them that your donors don’t care. All they want from your creative is to feel powerful through you. Everything else is just fluff.
I spent many happy years where you sit now, running direct response fundraising programs for nonprofits I believed in. The experience helped me appreciate the organizational issues and challenges all fundraisers face.
One of them is budgeting. A process that is as much about relationships as it is about numbers. As the July 1st deadline approaches, here are a couple of principles that worked well for me that I hope will work for you too.
Speak finance – Familiarize yourself the language your financial team uses and what they mean. When you talk in terms of net revenue, return on investment and quarterly projections and truly understand them and how the performance of your program impacts the organization, you become an integral part of the process and everyone’s on the same page. Also, understand the metrics your finance director is using to measure success.
Be responsive – Your budget is only one of many that your finance department is responsible for. Realize where you fit in, and when you’re asked for information, be ready to provide it. If you are helpful to your finance team, they will help you when you need it. They can make you look good, or they can make your life really hard.
Show your hand – Can financial people ever truly understand what fundraisers are trying to do? Sure they can. But only if you take the time to help them see things from your point of view. Our realm of direct response is easy for finance teams to grasp with its concrete campaign plans, projectable revenue and predictable expenses.
No surprises – Nothing troubles a finance director more than the unexpected. Cultivate a year-round relationship with your colleagues in finance, keep them in the picture and let them know as soon as something unanticipated happens.
As everyone knows, budgeting is a bargaining process. Finding the sweet spot between all the money that’s needed and what you can realistically raise is something you can’t do alone. For the coming financial year, make it a team effort.
We’re all guilty. That shiny new object looks just like a “silver bullet.” In our excitement, we forget what’s important in fundraising. Like your brand promise.
Why you exist, how you talk, what you believe, the impact you make, the feelings you stir… all these and more are wrapped up in your brand promise.
Everyone in your organization needs to understand, treasure and be true to your brand. Your leaders should grasp how it shapes fundraising. Development staff should be in tune with the organization’s mission, marketing, and financial goals and strategies (see our Balanced Scorecard for Nonprofits).
So repeat after me: If it doesn’t sound like you, don’t do it.
One way to live up to your brand promise is to invest more in front-end stewardship and cultivation instead of adding renewal efforts and mining your deep lapsed file on the back end. This way, your donors feel loved and your retention rates reflect it.
Some ways to improve on the front-end include:
- Develop a multi-channel welcome series. You can’t say thank you enough. But this also gives you a chance to deepen your donors’ understanding of what you do, why you do it, and how you do it.
- Ask for feedback. Surveys are a useful way to hear from your team (remember, donors are partners). Think about chat rooms on social media and give out a phone number specifically for donors to talk about issues, problems, or anything they want to get off their chest.
- Communicate more frequently and effectively. We often get asked how much communication is too much. Believe me, your donors will let you know. But too often nonprofits shut down communication with donors because a few of them may feel like you are over-communicating. Usually it means you are over-asking. Be creative in your messaging and don’t always ask for money! Rather, communicate more about the brand promise and the impact they are having. Giving away money is usually an irrational human behavior, so make them feel good about taking that action and demonstrate clearly the impact of what they are doing for your mission.
Sounds simple, but we know it isn’t. More effort in communicating and delivering on your brand promise, though, is sure to strengthen your donor relationships – and that’s what it’s all about in the end.