It’s a new year and a new decade, and for nonprofit fundraisers raising money and managing donors has never been more complex. That said, it’s important for nonprofit leaders and fundraisers alike to know the value of the organization’s overall donor base and the various segments of the donor portfolio.  Nonprofits must realize their donor base is one of – if not the most – important financial assets to the organization. Follow that rule of thumb and you are surely to enhance the way you communicate with your supporters.

Below are five items from your friends at NextGen to consider for 2020 to help you maximize fundraising revenue for this year and beyond…

1. Know your surroundings

Is your fundraising program ready to deal with change at a rapid pace?

While we can’t predict the future, we do know that 2020 will be a remarkable year and probably unlike any other in recent memory.  Thus, it’s more important than ever to forge strong relationships with donors and to raise money within the context of the times.  Donors and prospects are inundated with more media and messages than ever before, so it becomes that much more difficult for nonprofits to break through the clutter and serve as a form of comfort for those who support them not part of the distractions.

Already in the first days of 2020 we have seen geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Iran, deadly wildfires in Australia and devastating earthquakes in Puerto Rico.  These are on top of the ongoing political clashes in Washington and swings in the economy due to trade battles.  The likelihood is that many of these issues will continue to ramp up, especially in a national election year, or be replaced by even greater items.

Nonprofit leaders and fundraisers, therefore, need to monitor the environment in which they are attempting to raise money and be cognizant of rapidly changing trends and news cycles.

For many years, the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) has served as a reliable leading indicator for fundraising results.  While the December 2019 CCI dropped, they remain at historically good levels.

Driven by trade wars and now tensions in the Middle East, though, Americans remain concerned about short-term expectations and therefore may not be ready to give as much or as frequently or to as many organizations in recent times.

Additionally, it is important to follow Wall Street and the returns on the stock exchange.  If you overlay your organization’s performance on top of the S&P 500 Index performance over the past two years, you are likely to see similar curves in the chart.  Remember, many of our donors (and best donors at that) probably have money tied to the Market in the form of investments and retirement plans.

Natural disasters, political turmoil, shifting trends in the economy and purchase behaviors of consumers all point to the need for nonprofits to be as informed and as nimble as ever.

2. Strategy drives the tactics

We’ll be providing more background on this topic in the coming weeks and months in NextGen’s new Strategy Drives the Tactics series, but it is important for nonprofits to ensure that fundraising strategy is aligned with and supports mission, marketing and financial strategy across the organization.

Many fundraisers are quick to test new channels and new creative and make decisions based on short-term and often siloed response rather than looking at much larger strategic goals.

Because digital channels do not yet produce as much revenue as traditional/established channels, they are often underfunded, leading to a repeated cycle of underwhelming performance.

That’s why in 2020, we challenge nonprofit leaders and fundraisers to consider much greater investments in digital and social media, audiences, staff and technology platforms.  This email and Internet thing are not going to blow over.  Your donors are surely online, and they do spend time in social media, so why not communicate them with them there, too.

Marketing to audiences in digital channels actually costs less in terms of impressions and net cost per thousand than established channels, and smart organizations are learning to measure the performance of their marketing and fundraising investments across channels because they understand that impressions in digital channels can influence donor behavior in both digital and traditional channels.

This also means nonprofits must consider long-term value as a primary metric for success.  Short of true attribution models, it’s important to look at the entire touchpoint and response profile for a donor, not just look at individual campaign-level metrics.  Acquiring new donors and retaining the ones you have is getting more challenging and more expensive, so it is imperative that organizations maximize value out of the people who support them.

Again, more to follow on this topic, but the biggest sin we see at nonprofits is letting tactical decisions lead the way.

3. Invest in new donor acquisition

One of those strategic goals should be to acquire new donors, not only to help offset attrition, but to add breadth to your base of support.  More donors – and the right donors – means more money for the organization.  This also allows organizations to diversify their support base in the event the economy sees a downturn.  In other words, you become more recession-proof.

Speaking of diversification, now is the time to be thinking about potential new (and younger) audiences.  Newer donors may or may not resemble current core donors, but failure to invest in younger donors, albeit it ones that are not worth as much in this current year, is an investment in a relationship that will be increasingly important to your organization as your older donors move to more restricted income or fall victim to natural attrition.

Again, this requires the use of more digital and social channels.  Leveraging content across these platforms can lead to greater engagement and cultivation, thus more valuable new donors.

As you build or rent prospect lists, use modeling and optimization tools to cull your list further.  Focus specifically on both who to solicit and who not to solicit and use technology to help you determine timing and offer.

With a strong economy and jobs market, this is a good time to look at increasing acquisition efforts.  Despite the short-term concerns, more people are looking to nonprofits for solutions to social problems than ever before.  They are looking to nonprofits to help them feel like they are making a difference. They want to be part of a movement for change around issues.  You simply need to help them see you, build brand affinity and make the right ask at the right time.  Sure, that sounds way simpler than it is, but with the competition so strong in a challenging donor market, can you afford to sit idly by while others grab prospective donors from you?

Your organization does great work and has a good story to tell.  Now is a good time to revisit your messaging – your case for support and calls to action.  Are you leaving opportunities on the table because your messaging is stale?

4. Let content drive support

Across all channels, content should drive support and not the other way around.  What do we mean by this?  Generate content outside of fundraising appeals that engages and stewards your donors to a deeper relationship with your organization.  If we merely create messages to segments of donors just to get them to give money each time, we are missing an opportunity to tell the full story of the organization and its work.

Talk about the impact of your mission, the achievements made through the partnership with your donors.  Use video and infographics to help you tell that story.

Remember, many of your donors are actually giving through your organization, not necessarily to your organization.  Their ROI is in the form of social capital achieved through the impact of your mission for the causes they care deeply about.

Because of this affinity for the organization’s mission, it is also important to personalize as much as possible.  Today’s technology affords us the ability to do this with ease and within budget and the Amazon’s of the world have trained donors to expect a personal relationship.  

Learn more about your donors and what drives them to give to your organization.

5. Remember, fundraising is all about relationships

Think of the important relationships in your life and the care and thought put into managing them.  This is the level of attention that needs to be given to donors.  Build relationships, “talk” with your donors through as many channels as possible and educate them on the importance of their giving and the impact of the organization’s work.

Make sure that you are not always asking for money.  That’s a sure-fire way to end a relationship!  Plan a coordinated and personalized stream of communications that make each donor feel important and provide context to their role as a supporter.

Ensure that important milestones are conveyed and that key stakeholders have a voice in communicating with donors.  This makes the relationship feel broader, like the donor is known to everyone within the organization.

Also, don’t let technology distance the relationship rather than strengthen it.  Automation is convenient, but not if it feels automated to the donor.

Finally, back to the initial comments at the top of this article, remember how valuable the donors base (and therefore the relationships with individual donors) is to the organization’s financial health.  If you are not constantly working these relationships, then you simply are not doing your job.  Of course, we’re not just talking about 2020.  What will the value of these relationships be in three, five, or ten years? 

There are many things to think about in this new year, but we hope these five will be at or near the top of your list.

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