“Christmas in July” has become a time when the Hallmark Channel airs holiday movies while it’s 90 degrees outside and companies run ads touting summer sales.
For us in the fundraising industry, it’s the time to start planning our end-of-year (EOY) fundraising campaigns.
So, we’re coming to you in June to help you get your Christmas in July planning off to a strong start.
We’ve already been fielding questions like, “How will this year-end fundraising season be different?” We’ve come to count on that December bump in revenue. But with the economic impact of COVID-19, we may still be in a recession, and the windfall we’re used to receiving may be less than what we’re accustomed to.
Adding to that, we know many of you are being asked to leverage EOY fundraising to make up shortfalls you may be seeing right now because of canceled, postponed or modified events and fundraising efforts due to COVID-19.
Here’s the big question: What do we do to help mitigate the expected shortfall and fill the gap?
First, and it may go without saying but we’ll say it anyway, continue to fundraise. Your cause is still important, even in a recession. Your donors still want to help. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.
So, continue with your EOY campaign, but frame it appropriately. Make it relevant. Make it real and state your need, whatever that may be.
But even with a best-in-class fundraising campaign, this EOY fundraising season will likely be tough. To help prepare for that, there are strategies you can put into place starting now to help fill that gap. Let’s touch on each one:
Grow and Nurture Your Sustainer Program
Sustainer programs are on the rise. In fact, sustainers grew nearly 14% from July 2018 to June 2019. This is due in part to an increased focus on these programs by nonprofit organizations, but also because the subscription economy has truly been embraced by all. People enjoy the convenience of a “set it and forget it” monthly gift.
And we know that sustainers have a higher retention rate than that of one-time donors. A strong sustainer program is critical to having a steady stream of dependable income you can count on during good times and bad.
With that in mind, make sure you’re optimizing your sustainer program from all angles:
Promote monthly giving at every turn.
Ensure the option to become a sustainer is on your web site, emphasizing the convenience of this giving option. Make it part of your donation form (with reasonable amounts) and provide a way to become a sustainer before one-time gifts are processed (at the point of sale).
You can also run a dedicated campaign to grow your sustainers, emphasizing the need for ongoing support. There’s never been a better case for this than COVID-19. Support from monthly donors provides a safety net so when the unexpected happens, you’ll be prepared.
Steward your sustainers to increase retention.
Demonstrate the impact of their monthly gift and thank them often to ensure they stay loyal and feel good about their ongoing contribution to your organization.
Upgrade your sustainers to maximize their value.
When monthly donors are provided with an easy way to upgrade and a compelling reason to do so, many will take you up on the offer to easily have a greater impact. A few dollars a month per donor can really add up.
Promote Donor Advised Funds
Did you know that five of the top seven charities in America right now are donor-advised funds (DAFs)? Think Fidelity Charitable and Charles Schwab. In the past few years, contributions to DAFs have been on the rise, and more and more mid-level donors are moving to them.
Donors are flocking to DAFs for three reasons:
Changes in the tax law
Recent tax reform legislation has made it advantageous for some donors to make a large gift every other year to a DAF and then make grant recommendations to charities over time rather than make annual contributions to individual organizations.
Ease of use
Investment firms and others sponsoring DAFs have made it easy for donors to create and use these vehicles. (Did you know that you can start a DAF for as little as $5,000?)
While gifts are waiting to be distributed, DAF funds are invested and grow tax-free, ideally increasing the amount that makes it way to charities.
But the fact of the matter is that more money is flowing into DAFs than flowing out of them. We need to follow the lead of DAF sponsors and make it as easy for donors to request grants as it was for them to donate to their DAF, as we remind them of their original goal to support their favorite charities.
Now is the time to identify your current and potential DAF donors and build communications strategies for both groups. Segment your emails, reminding current DAF donors that they’ve supported you this way in the past and letting potential donors know that you accept DAF gifts. Create an easy-to-find home on your website for making a DAF distribution and promote that in all your channels from email and direct mail to telemarketing and major gift conversations.
Studies tracking giving during the Great Recession of 2008 found that gifts from DAFs were the only type of individual giving that did not experience a decrease. Do your planning and marketing now to take advantage of that fact in 2020.
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Create a Social Ambassadors Program
Social Ambassadors have recently been utilized to raise organizations’ profiles during the coronavirus pandemic, but this loyal group of supporters can help your organization year-round. By lending their voices and sharing content online, this group can really help you cast a wider net and grow your donor base.
There’s no time like the present to start a Social Ambassadors program for your organization—the country is slowly opening back up, but the impact of the pandemic will be felt for some time, and your supporters want to see you weather this storm. Bringing on Ambassadors now will give you ample time to acclimate them and give them the confidence they need to carry your message next Giving Tuesday, when competition for gifts will be heavy.
Want an added incentive to build your Social Ambassador program? During campaigns, we see as much as 10% of this group making donations (many of them for the first time), even when sharing content online is the primary action they’re being asked to take.
Now more than ever, building relationships with your supporters is key. The organizations who invest in this now and leading up to year-end will have the most success.
The ability of a Social Ambassadors program to accomplish this is two-fold:
Closer ties with supporters
You grow and strengthen your relationship with those who sign up to become a Social Ambassador for your organization.
Your Social Ambassadors create new relationships between your organization and their networks by means of positive word-of-mouth.
So, as you start thinking about your EOY campaign, take this time to build your sustainer, donor-advised fund and Social Ambassador programs. These programs will be gifts to your organization that keep on giving through the EOY fundraising season and long after the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.
About the Authors
Loved hearing from Dolores and Tara and wondering how they can help you supercharge your 2020 end-of-year fundraising efforts?