Fundraising when the world turns upside down…

pandemic

Shortly after my organization started following new, more effective fundraising methods, the pandemic hit.

To my surprise, the fundraising writing tactics I had learned still worked, even in this new upside-down world.

Maybe you remember how many unknowns there were.

The stock market tanked. People were sent home from their jobs – many people lost their jobs. In some areas of the US, people couldn’t leave their homes except for a few reasons like going to the grocery store.

For a few months, it felt like the world was on pause.

But the need to deliver on our mission didn’t go away, for my organization or other organizations. Funds were still needed, but would donors still give?

At my organization, there was some question of whether it was appropriate to ask donors to give in this climate full of unknowns.

But all the advice I was seeing, hearing, reading from professional fundraising strategists (including Steven Screen!)…

…if there is a need, ask your donors to give. Full stop.

DON’T stop fundraising.

If donors CHOOSE not to give, that is their decision. But if you don’t even ask them to give, you are deciding they won’t give without even asking them. And you are letting your mission or your beneficiaries down.

So, I advocated for more appeal letters, more emails, more personal touches, more sharing in the uncertainty and asking donors for help.

I was pushier than normal, and this felt very uncomfortable. This was when I realized a big shift had happened. I was a fundraiser.

I had developed new instincts, and they were fundraising instincts.

I began to trust myself and my organization was, once again, willing to try something that felt uncomfortable.

And AGAIN, donors responded in a big way.

Donors wanted to help.

Many of these donors were sitting at home, feeling helpless, and giving was something they could do to help.

Key lesson here. When there is a need, ask donors to help. Even when times are tough. Especially when times are tough.

When you ask, you are empowering donors to do something – to help right a wrong, to provide something that is needed, to make a situation better. And that is noble work.

Whether you are new to the direct response fundraising world or you’re a seasoned pro, maybe you see yourself somewhere in this series.

It can be scary to let go of what you are used to and try something new. It can be humbling to admit the rules you’ve been following are the wrong rules for the job in front of you. It can be uncomfortable to push for something that others at your organization question.

In these moments, keep your mission in front of you – your organization’s mission AND your mission as a fundraiser.

It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Whatever the fundraising job in front of you, be bold and clear with your donors, and then trust them to do the rest.

Comment here or find me on Twitter @sarahlundberg.

Reporting Back in a Pandemic (Or after Any Disaster)

reporting

Better Fundraising has three tips to make your Reporting Back to donors resonate.

Because if your reports are timeless – if they could have been sent at any time during the past year – it means they aren’t relevant to the world the donor is living in today.

And if they aren’t relevant, they don’t need to be read.

Which trains your donor to read fewer of your communications – and you don’t want that, do you?

So here are three tips to make your Report Backs relevant to your donors:

Report back on something that happened during the pandemic.

What happened in January isn’t relevant right now.

And your messaging has to be relevant right now, or it’s mostly useless.

You want to share a story of something that happened because of the pandemic. That might mean a transition to telemedicine to care for a hurting person. It might mean emergency rent assistance for someone who lost their job.

But it can’t be the same story you would have told if the pandemic hadn’t happened.

Think of it this way: during Christmastime, you don’t see a lot of stories about Halloween. And any story you tell right now about something that happened before the pandemic is at high risk of being about Halloween while everyone else is singing Christmas carols.

A “Breathless Report from The Field” will beat “Standard E-News.”

Your donor knows that the world is upside down. So don’t give her a standard e-news report.

Don’t treat your writing like business-as-usual.

The organizations that will bond with their donors most closely are ones who make their donors feel like they are right there – getting the fresh news. Yesterday’s update from the CEO. The email that came in earlier this morning from program staff.

We’re already seeing this in action. Organizations we serve are sharing simple little updates of stories that just came in. The person who received the meds they needed – the family that was rescued.

And the donors love it! High open rates. Lots of giving in response to Reports. And even replies to the emails thanking the organizations for letting the donors know what’s going on.

Donors respond to this type of immediacy.

Donors are wondering, “what’s going on right now?” and are forgiving (even appreciative) of communications feeling like they were put together at the last minute.

Remember: donors care more about your beneficiaries and knowing what’s going on than they care about the professionalism of your communications.  

Fear is Contagious. Hope Is, Too.

Donor generosity is amazing.

Hopefully, you’ve done a great job sharing the problems facing your beneficiaries, cause, or organization. And you’ve raised a ton of money these last few weeks.

So be sure to share good news and hope, too.

Because donors want to hear some good news; they’re hoping that there are signs of people taking care of each other when there’s so much bad news on the front page.

When you do this, give the credit to your donor. Be super clear that the good news is happening because of her, and her generosity.

Because if donors are looking for some good news – and you share good news with them and give your donor the credit for causing that good news – don’t you think that increases the likelihood that she’ll like your organization a bit more?

And don’t you think that will increase the chance she’ll read your next email or letter?

And don’t you think that increases the chance that she’ll give to you during the coming slump?

And she’ll continue to be a donor once all of this is over?

I don’t “think so” – I know so.

Silver Linings in a Pandemic

silver lining

We at Better Fundraising have noticed a lot of “fundraising silver linings” in the past few weeks.

So with absolutely all due respect to the loss of life, the people sacrificing on the front lines, and the ways we’ve all be harmed by the current situation… there are plenty of silver linings for donors, Fundraisers and fundraising.

  • Donor generosity is amazing.
  • Donor retention is going to be up this year, based on what we’re seeing.
  • Most of our clients had a great March. For many of them, it was their best month ever.
  • More nonprofits are practicing fundraising essentialism: doing the things that drive results and nothing more. Put another way, they’re abandoning the activities they’ve always done “because they were supposed to” and are doing the things that drive measurable results.
  • Organizations that had systematic approaches to major donor fundraising knew exactly who to call. And those donors came through.
  • Nonprofits that have put in the work before all this – communicating enough, making sure donors know that their gifts make a real difference – are seeing incredible giving.
  • Even nonprofits that haven’t put in the work are seeing the incredible giving. I repeat: donor generosity is amazing.
  • Nonprofits using data to know whether they are still in the Bump or have moved into the Slump, and modifying their messaging accordingly.
  • Nonprofits seeing incredible response to their emails continuing to send those emails until results start to drop.
  • Nonprofits sending direct mail because they know that their emails don’t penetrate the older portion of their file.
  • More and more older donors getting comfortable giving online.

Huge thanks to all the Fundraisers out there making all this possible. You’re giving donors chances to support the causes, beneficiaries and organizations they care about. And you’re raising money for causes that matter.