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The Development Waiting Game Needs To End

By Tiffany Neill, CFRE

Walking through one of those home stores where the reigning decorating theme is “small wooden signs for your wall,” this one might sound familiar …“Being an adult means constantly saying ‘things will calm down when…’” 

A lot of fundraisers have been saying that lately. Heck, you probably have said it yourself. “Things will calm down when the supply chain normalizes … when the Finland paper strike ends … when the great resignation stops … when mask requirements lift … when the war in Ukraine ends … when the S&P stabilizes.”

Well, it’s time to switch the narrative. Consider a new wooden sign that reads: “Being an adult means accepting that change is normal … calm down.”

Fundraisers can’t wait for a mythical day without change. Nonprofits need more funds than ever, and it is time to accept that unprecedented is the new normal. Smart approaches can ensure that organizations raise the needed funds, and it is time to implement these approaches without delay. Here’s how can you calm down, take charge and embrace reality?

Invest in Your Most Valuable Resource – Your Donors

Your donors face the same inflation, scarce resources and labor force issues that you do – which might lead these valuable donors to invest in fewer charities. Make sure that you remain on their donation list. Focusing on donor retention does not have to cost much and some simple approaches can stabilize, if not increase, donor loyalty. 

Look at your email cadence. Do you have enough messages that don’t ask for money? Email is a great way to educate, engage and steward donors. In fact, fundraising results often increase when fundraising messages come after a message or two that don’t make an ask. Plus, interactive emails are a great way to keep your click rate up and ensure strong deliverability. Here are some great approaches to try.

Send donors a digital “care package” featuring Zoom backgrounds they can download (to show off that they support your cause) or stories from your work.

Now is also a great time to look at your digital newsletter. Is it engaging and fun? Maybe you should ask your donors what they think. Email is a great channel for interactive communication.

Quizzes, polls and one question communications involve your donors in your work without making a monetary ask. 

Do you have some extra paper, envelopes or letterhead? Send an unexpected message to valuable donors. With supply chain issues, every penny you’ve spent on printed material is worth saving. If you overprinted blank envelopes or plain letterhead, find segments of donors and send a quick note. Consider donors who gave last year by this point but not yet this year. Use this as a moment to say “thank you,” not to ask for another gift. 

If you have postcard paper, a personalized “thank you” postcard goes a long way. Organizations where fundraisers have done this have received pictures of them on their donor’s refrigerators, bulletin boards and other places. 

Make sure to remind people of their loyalty by including such things as “donor since” dates where appropriate. It’s a nice way to bond donors closer to you.

Here are a few other donor groups to consider:

  • Long-time loyal donors
  • New donors without a 2nd gift
  • Donors who upgraded during the pandemic
  • Lapsed donors who reinstated during the pandemic

Look at all your solicitations to existing donors and increase the use of the word “renew.” Fundraisers at organizations that don’t have “members” are often reluctant to use the word “renew” but the addition of this word can dramatically increase donor retention. No members? Use language such as: “Time to renew your annual support.”

Consider testing “last gift date” on reply forms and in letters to remind people it’s time to renew their support 

Ensure your communications with donors authentically represent your organization’s work right now. Control messages are important, but if the current environment is impacting your mission, donors are going to expect to hear about it. Look at all messages and art and ensure that you are being honest and authentic with your donors. Donors may be limiting their charitable giving. Make sure they understand why you need their gift right now.

Include some messages that report back to the donor how their investment is used. This is a great moment to examine your acknowledgments and include more language about exactly how the donor’s gift was used.

Revisit Your Old Test Results 

You’ve probably tested several cost-saving measures over the years for your direct mail program: removing a front-end premium (greeting cards, calendars, etc.), reducing the number of pieces to be inserted, etc. 

If those tests “lost” you may want to go back and look at them in light of increased costs — it could be that a more cost-effective package doesn’t get quite as high an average gift, but from a cost per donor basis, it’s a winner. Things to consider include:

  • Still mailing stamped reply envelopes? See if that increased cost of postage makes that technique still win.
  • Consider your First Class vs. Standard postage split. It might be that First-Class postage does not gain you anything.
  • Look at those front-end premiums. Was the lift you received in response rate enough to justify the expense? Could you mail more for the same price and still yield as much?

It’s also a great time to re-examine all of the ask line testing you’ve done. For the last year or so many organizations have seen donor counts decline while average gifts increase and your ask line strategy might be geared towards this behavior. If the economy declines, average gifts could follow, and you should make sure your ask lines on and offline meet the times. 

Don’t Stop Mailing – But Check The Channels

History has taught that fundraisers who cut back on mail to save money when times are hard lose in the end. Organizations where leaders cut acquisition mailings during the 2008/2009 recession still bear the negative consequences of those decisions. There are ways to strategically reduce the overall quantity being mailed (and save some money) without “cutting just to cut.”

If you are mailing donors who only ever give online look at their results in the mail to see if it’s worth it to send them mail. It might be that you can build as strong a relationship with these donors only mailing once or twice each year and letting most of their communication be online.

If you are not analyzing acquisition results in terms of long-term value by list, now is a good moment to do so. It could be that you can adjust the lists you are mailing and acquire as many people for the long term without mailing as much up front.

Look at your cadence of communications with your lapsed donors. Most organizations saw performance of these donor groups surge during the 2020 pandemic year before returning to more normal levels. It might be that you can reduce the touch points for lapsed donors and without harm.

Measure the short- and long-term return on investment (ROI) for every channel. It might be a good time to shift some resources to online acquisition if the ROI is better during this period. 

 

All of these strategies will help you navigate whatever comes by ensuring that your fundraising is smart, authentic and donor focused. 

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Tiffany Neill, CFRE, is partner in the firm Lautman Maska Neill & Company in Washington, D.C. Her email is TNeill@lautmandc.com

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