Fundraising in the 2024 Election Year – The Noisy Spring

Noise.

Fundraising during a presidential election year can be tricky.

But if you base your plan for this year on what’s worked best in previous presidential election years, this COULD be one of your best fundraising years since the pandemic.

There are four distinct phases of the election cycle that will impact your fundraising efforts:

Phase 1: The Noisy Spring (that’s right now!)

Phase 2: The Summer Slump

Phase 3: The Election Storm

Phase 4: The Year-End Rally

Today’s post shows you what do NOW, during the Noisy Spring (April through June).  Our next three posts will be about the next three phases.

The Noisy Spring

You may have already noticed election coverage ramping up. Political messages are flooding TV, print and radio, mail and inboxes, and social media feeds.

This makes your job harder (though not impossible by any means). But you will need to work harder to capture donors’ attention and inspire them to give.

Here’s how to break through the noise:

  1. Communicate with your donors more frequently and assertively. This means ratcheting up your digital communications (e-appeals, e-stories, social media posts) and adding creative tactics with direct mail packages (think colored and odd-sized envelopes, handwritten addresses, etc.).
  2. Increase the urgency in your appeals, highlighting the critical needs of your beneficiaries and the incredible changes your donor’s giving makes. Lean into storytelling to create emotional responses in your donors. Don’t shy away from talking about the needs of your beneficiaries and the problems your organization solves. An election year is not the time to sugarcoat the situation for your donors.
  3. Ask for larger gifts and trust that committed donors will rise to the occasion despite the distractions of the election. This is especially true for major donors. Ask a donor for more than you think they will give you, then if the donor chooses to give you less, they’ve made that choice.  Don’t make the choice for them!

Right now is the time to get your strategy set for The Noisy Spring of the 2024 election year. They key is to break through the noise and communicate with your donors, increase the urgency, and ask for big gifts with confidence!

Next time… what to do during The Summer Slump.

Do You Have a Clear Way for Donors to Give Stocks?

Giving complicated.

Does your organization have a simple and clear way for your donors to donate stock or other investments?

If not, you’d be smart to get started!

Here’s why this is important…

Most wealthy donors have some of their money in cash (checking and savings accounts). Think of this as a small bucket.

But MOST of their money is in investments (stocks, bonds, IRAs) where it can earn them more money. Think of this as a large bucket.

And right now, this large bucket of investments is likely doing well.

If you only accept cash gifts from donors, they will likely donate from their small bucket of cash.

But if you make it easy to donate stock and other investments, donors can give out of their large bucket of invested wealth, while also receiving some nice tax breaks.

Your donor loves your cause and your organization. She wants to do what she can to help. And when you have a simple, clear way for your donor to donate stock or other investments, she may be able to give more than she could if you only accept cash.

That’s a win-win!

If your organization doesn’t have simple way to accept gifts of stock or other investments, it’s worth the bit of up-front work it takes to get started.

You’ll need to:

  • Open a brokerage account for your organization. Compare a few to find one with the lowest fees. Two of the most common are Fidelity Charitable and Schwab. Someone on your team will need to monitor this account periodically.
  • Set up policies and procedures so that everyone in your organization knows how to handle stock gifts, including receipting.
  • Let your donors know they can transfer stock and investments to your org. When they transfer the stock instead of selling it themselves, they can avoid capital gains taxes. They may also want to check with their financial advisor.
  • Have simple instructions for giving stocks and investments on your website and on a one page handout you could give to a donor.

For more detail on getting your organization ready to receive gifts of stock and investments, here’s a helpful resource from FreeWill.

And here’s the bottom line:

The stock market has been performing well in the last year, which means donors have more money to give… IF you accept gifts of stock and investments. Take the time now to set up a simple, clear way for donors to give, and you’ll see the benefits for years to come.

Make Your Fundraising Offers Accessible

Simple offer.

Finding an accessible offer for an annual giving donor can be one of the most difficult challenges in fundraising. 

Here’s why: Your annual giving donor doesn’t have all day to read about all your programs. She might have just $30 to contribute, AND she still wants to make a difference.

An accessible offer will show her the incredible difference she can make with just her $30 and a few minutes of her time. 

An accessible offer is:

  • Direct – It’s a clear solution to the problem presented.
  • Specific – It tells her exactly what her gift will do.
  • A Good Deal – It’s affordable, and the donor feels her gift will go a long way.
  • Urgent – It demonstrates why her gift is needed now.

Here are some examples:

  • $35 provides a night of safety and care
  • $7.50 provides a meal for a college student who can’t afford it
  • $55 provides a day of summer camp
  • $37 provides 1 art class for a middle-schooler

An accessible offer requires the donor to understand less about your organization.  Most nonprofits work under the incorrect assumption that a donor “must know all about all the things we do, and that we are good at it” before the donor can be asked to give a gift.

But offers that present ONE compelling part of what your organization does are more accessible to your $30 donor.  Offers like this will increase your appeal results, and your donors will feel amazing knowing the incredible difference they can make!

PS — You might be thinking, “OK, so our offer is $7.  Are we going to get a ton of $7 gifts?  Aren’t we going to raise less money this way because our donors are going to give less?”  Check out page 24 in this free Offers E-book to learn the answer!

Make Your Appeal Letters Accessible

Accessible typewriter.

We want to help you create appeal letters that are accessible for your donors.

You may have heard that the average donor is a 65-year-old woman.  She receives a LOT of mail.  To get through it all, she’s scanning and in a hurry.  But that doesn’t change the fact that she wants to make a difference.

The easier it is for a donor to read and understand your appeals, the more accessible your appeals are, and the more likely your donors are to give.

Here are some ways to make your appeals more accessible for your donors:

  • Use font size 12 and up.
  • Indent the beginning of each paragraph.
  • Write in high-contrast colors (black text on white paper).
  • Write at a middle-school grade level.
  • Use underlines and bolded sentences to show donors the most important sentences.  Each emphasized phrase should be understandable without reading the whole letter in case the highlighted sentences are the only ones she has time to read.
  • Use a double-space after a period.  It will be slightly easier for her to separate your sentences.

Writing accessible appeal letters will help more of your appeals get read, and show your donor the incredible difference she can make for your beneficiaries.  But your donor won’t know the difference she can make if the appeal is written in small text she can’t read, or if it uses colors she can’t see clearly.

It’s little changes like this that will make your appeal letters accessible, and help you raise more money!

Could Your Fundraising Be More Accessible?

Accessible.

Here’s a goal for your fundraising in 2024 – make it more accessible.

The ethical reasons are clear: we should not make unnecessary design and language choices that make it harder for people to see, read and understand.

Additionally, the financial reasons are clear:

  • When more people can easily read your fundraising, more of your fundraising will be consumed, and you’ll raise more money.
  • When more people can quickly understand your fundraising, more people will keep reading, and you’ll raise more money.

Our next three blog posts will be full of tips for how you can make your fundraising more accessible.  All of the tactics we’ll share, as well as the overall idea, are part of the Universal Design movement.  (But we just call it smart fundraising 🙂 )

In the meantime, take a look at your fundraising and ask yourself:

  • Is the text easy for an older person to read?
  • Is the design easy for a “scanner” to quickly know what’s most important?
  • Is the copy written so that the reader needs a college education to understand it, or is it accessible to people with less education?

It’s emotionally stretching for an organization to make their fundraising more accessible.  But you’ll be doing the right thing.  And in my experience, you’ll also raise more money.

There Is No Secret Meeting

Secret meeting.

For small nonprofits that are struggling to raise money, it’s tempting to imagine that there’s a secret meeting.

You know, the meeting where all the donors from your town get together on Zoom and decide not support your organization.

If your fundraising life feels that way, you might consider asking yourself a couple of questions. 

  • Does your fundraising make it clear what will happen when the donor gives a gift, stated in concrete (not conceptual) language?
  • Have you told people how a gift to your organization will improve a situation that they care about?
  • If donating to your organization might feel risky to donors, what can you do to make it feel less risky?
  • When donors have given to your organization in the past, did your organization take the credit (“Look at what our team accomplished!”) or did you give the credit away to donors (“Look at what you and your generosity accomplished!”)?
  • Does your fundraising make it clear that you need their help?  If not, are you able to boldly and vulnerably ask for support?

When a nonprofit feels like the biggest secret in town, it’s usually something about their fundraising that’s keeping it that way.

Which story are you telling?

Storytelling.

Better Fundraising recently decided to sponsor the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference this fall.  (You should go!)  So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling.

I’ve noticed that when most nonprofits are thinking about “storytelling” in their fundraising, they are thinking about one of two stories:

  1. The story of a beneficiary.  You’ve seen loads of appeals like this: they focus on the story of one beneficiary who has already been helped, then ask the donor to support the work of the organization.  The storytelling focus is on the beneficiary.  Or…
  2. The story of the organization.  You’ve seen fundraising materials like this, too; they focus on what services the organization provides, what year the organization was founded, and what the organization believes.  The storytelling focus is on the organization itself. 

At Better Fundraising, we advise our clients not to tell either of those stories.

Instead, we help our clients tell “the story of the difference the donor’s gift will make.”  The storytelling focus is on the change that will happen when a donor gives a gift.

At its simplest, it looks like this; “Right now things are X, but if you give a gift they will be Y.”  Doing this well helps your donors to see and (more importantly) feel the difference their gift will help make.

Telling the story of “the difference that the donor’s gift will make” is a fundamentally different story than most organizations tell.  It results in fundamentally different appeals.

And those appeals raise significantly more money.

Ask yourself if the storytelling in your appeals is mostly about your beneficiaries or your organization.  If you’d like to raise more with your appeals, try an appeal that focuses on the difference a donor can make if they send in a gift.

You Don’t Need to Convince Your Donors

Convince.

There’s an approach to fundraising that believes that your fundraising must convince the donor that what you’re working on is important before they will read your message or give a gift.

This is happening any time you see an appeal start out with a statistic.  “There are over 14,000 children in the LA area aging out of the foster care system each year” is one example.  “43% of the wetlands in Okanagan are currently unprotected” is another.

These stats are meant to communicate to the donor that what’s being written about is Important, that this is a Big Deal

The organization’s thinking goes something like, “If the donor only realized how important and what a big problem this is, they would give a gift.” 

In my experience, this approach does not work very well.

Here’s an approach that works better: believe that your donor already cares.

After all, each gift to your organization is a sign that the donor cares about the situation you’re working on and/or your organization.  Your donors have already put themselves on the hook for your cause. 

If you believe that your reader already cares, you skip the whole “try to convince them” part.  This leads to appeals that:

  1. Tell the donor what’s happening right now,
  2. Give an example (usually in the form of a story) of how what’s happening right now is affecting a person / the wetland / whatever you work on,
  3. Tells the donor specifically what their gift will do to help.

By skipping the whole “we have to convince them this is important” part, the letter or email is free to get right to what the donor is more likely to be interested in: what’s happening now, and what their gift will do about it.

Moving forward, trust that your donors don’t need to be convinced.  They’ve already told you with their attention and generosity.

Two Audiences = Two Approaches

2 approaches.

There’s a big difference between writing appeal letters and writing grant applications.

When you’re writing a grant application you know that it will be read.  In fact, someone is paid to read it.

When you’re writing an appeal letter (or an e-appeal) you know that it will arrive in a mailbox in competition with everything else the donor is receiving.  No one is paid to read it.

That’s a big difference.

The audiences for grant applications and appeals are completely different.  This explains why the writing style for an appeal is different than the writing style for a grant application. 

If your grant applications and your appeals sound the same, one of them is completely missing the mark.