While everyone is contending with some level of financial uncertainty in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this does not mean your fundraising efforts need to stop or even decrease. In fact, continued fundraising activities during this time are essential for ensuring you maintain a strong relationship with your donors.
However, one important element of fundraising has changed as a consequence of COVID-19—the manner in which organizations need to go about identifying and reaching out to their donors. This guide details ways fundraising organizations are pivoting to continue their capital campaigns, explains the types of messages that are proving most effective at this time and outlines specific actions you can take to continue raising money.
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This guide is based on an interview between Rick Dunham, Chair of the Board at the Giving USA Foundation and the CEO of Dunham + Company, and Raj Khera, WealthEngine’s EVP and Chief Marketing Officer. Listen to the webinar here.
Given the global impact of the sudden economic downturn, it’s imperative that nonprofits continue fundraising in this difficult time. It is important to bear in mind that many nonprofits are founded based on mission statements declaring a commitment to increasing equity in fair treatment and opportunities for advancement among underserved sections of society.
The societal challenges members of these groups face are only exacerbated when a catastrophe like COVID-19 shakes the foundations of social and financial norms. As Dunham noted, “If your mission was relevant before all this hit, then it’s still relevant today.”
In fact, the number of individuals in need of assistance can increase significantly. This has certainly proven true in the wake of COVID-19. As Khera observed, “We saw [recently] there were over six million people that had filed for unemployment. Our country is hurting…there’s a lot of need out there.”
Donors also depend on consistent communication for assurances that the organizations they support are still functional and fulfilling their mission in times of crisis. If you go silent during a critical period for fear of being perceived as insensitive, it may end up damaging your relationship with your donors rather than helping it.
Dunham urges people to remember, “It’s not about the organization, it’s about what the organization is actually able to accomplish in the lives of people.”
The pandemic hasn’t put an end to fundraising. It’s only changed how fundraising is done. These tactics ensure that you’re appealing to and communicating with donors effectively.
Social distancing protocols and specifically, bans on public meetings in groups have disproportionately impacted religious-based nonprofits that now find themselves searching for alternative fundraising strategies.
Dunham, whose company is a global leader in providing fully integrated marketing and fundraising strategies for nonprofits, offers the following suggestion: “Part of what I want to encourage churches to do is to consider a midweek eAppeal, that is more like an offering, if you would, that encourages people [and] reminds people of the ongoing work of the church.”
The same is true for museums and community organizations that primarily interact with people through face-to-face interactions. Just because your doors are closed to the public doesn’t mean that communications with them need to cease. You simply need to find a more appropriate method of interacting with them.
Before sending a single email, segment your donor list using a donor pyramid. A donor pyramid can accurately identify which donors nonprofits should pursue at specific target amounts.
A behavioral trend has emerged where high-level donors are continuing to give but in smaller amounts, while mid-tier donors are increasing their gifts. Take advantage of this trend by targeting donors in these tiers with relevant messages and requests for donations.
WealthEngine recently unveiled the first artificial intelligence-based donor pyramid modeler in the industry. This advanced tool allows nonprofits to easily and quickly visualize how major fundraising endeavors should be broken down among giving tiers.
With this tool, you can automatically segment your existing donors so you know who to target for planned giving, major gifts, mid-level gifts, and more. You can also easily see how many prospects you need to meet your goals. WealthEngine then works to find those prospects for you.
Khera detailed how the donor pyramid modeler works by giving a hypothetical fundraising goal and explaining how you can use this new tool to create an accurate visualization of how close you are to meeting your fundraising objective: “Let’s say you want to raise a million dollars. All you do is type that in and our pyramid will actually help figure out how many gifts you need for each tier. You can change the thresholds for each tier…and it’ll recalculate everything for you, including your conversion ratios of how many people you need to meet, and how many you would close.”
It doesn’t make sense to reach out to a particular donor if their financial situation has drastically changed and they’re no longer capable of making their usual gift. Instead, use data analytics to focus your fundraising efforts on those who have experienced less of an impact.
WealthEngine’s WE Data tool enables organizations to quickly identify those individuals most capable of giving.
The We Data feature analyzes information from 60 sources, 300 million profiles, and 122 million households, and then offers insight into a prospect’s net worth, income, assets, history of giving, and more. With that kind of detailed data at your fingertips, you can easily find donors capable of supporting your mission, even at times of challenging circumstances on a global scale.
The subject line of your email campaign is the first thing donors see, so make it count. Aim to strike a balance between being sensitive to donors’ current situations and leaving the door open for them to continue participating in your mission.
Dunham shared the experience of one of his clients who supplemented its fundraising efforts with an email campaign that began with a simple yet impactful subject line: “How are you doing?”
Dunham explains this subject line was so effective “because . . . it immediately let the donor know how much and how important that donor was to that particular organization.”
The body of your email should be equally engaging. In the case of Dunham’s client, the body of the email began with, “How are you doing in light of all that’s going on right now? We’re concerned about how you’re doing.” The message also addressed the health of the organization, its plans for moving forward, and expressed gratitude for the ongoing support it had received.
This lone email blast generated $50,000 in donations. While certainly an impressive return, Dunham was quick to point out that this example of successful email marketing is not an isolated outcome: “For the month of March itself, that would be the last three to four weeks, we’ve seen a 26% increase year-over-year in revenue, but it’s because they’re actively engaging.”
This is no time for organizations to hold information back from donors: If your nonprofit is genuinely struggling, do not attempt to downplay the stark reality. Efforts to downplay financial distress could negatively impact the carefully cultivated relationship between a nonprofit and its donors. Dunham emphasizes the importance of maintaining a relationship built on trust by asserting, “Nothing could be more distressing to a supporter, somebody who has invested in you, [than] to find out that you were in trouble and you never said anything about it.”
Dunham advises struggling organizations to issue “a very clear request for funding” detailing why money is urgently needed.
One of Dunham’s clients was an organization that could only sustain itself for approximately 18 days before operations would be forced to close. The solution was a quickly assembled multi-channel campaign that honestly addressed the situation, clearly stating the urgent need for funding. The ensuing donations allowed the organization to survive.
Dunham asserts, “Without being vulnerable and communicating the severity of their situation, this company could have potentially ended up closing their doors.”
Smile FM, a Christian radio network based in Michigan, is another organization that saw similar success using the same tactic. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the station averaged a loss of three ongoing givers per month. When the pandemic hit, they began losing roughly three ongoing givers per day.
In response, the organization crafted an honest, compassionate email and sent it to 2,557 people, generating 25 donations within the first hour. Less than 24 hours later, the station had received 68 gift pledges, totaling nearly $20,000. Aside from on-air pledge drives, no fundraising initiative in the station’s history had ever generated such a generous response in such a short amount of time.
In addition to being authentic and honest, the messages you craft and their delivery system should be relevant to the demographics of your donors.
WE Analyze, a tool by WealthEngine, gives organizations an in-depth look at donor demographics so they can create messaging that matches the personas of their supporters.
For example, if your donors tend to be older, a fundraiser driven by direct mail is likely going to be more effective than one through an Instagram campaign or Facebook ads.
Of course, there’s some messaging that you can land on without needing a demographics analysis tool. A faith-based organization such as a church, for instance, should tailor the content of their emails to reflect how they would engage with their congregants in person.
Dunham noted, “We’ve seen a tremendous response to a message around ‘How can we pray for you?’ For the faith-based organizations, there’s been tremendous engagement around that.”
This message works because it’s the same approach a person would take if they were comforting one of their faith-based peers in a face-to-face encounter.
Gift matching, a process in which a high-value donor or sponsor matches lower-value donations, is another powerful fundraising strategy. This approach may include a traditional gift-matching program or be implemented as a challenge, in which a larger donation will be made if a certain threshold is met through the combined efforts of several small and mid-level donations.
Dunham maintains that the “true match” approach is the stronger of the two gift matching fundraising initiatives. Explaining his preference for a true match gift challenge, Dunham argues that true match has more of an impact, “especially if there’s some sort of a time frame on it, that if you run the potential of losing a portion of the match, and the donor’s intent is to get people to really be engaged” this approach can be very effective in getting people to commit to giving.
The doubling effect of a person’s gift is also a powerful tool. If a donor realizes meeting a certain gift threshold will result in their donation being doubled—increasing the impact for the organization—their incentive to give is increased.
For these types of programs to be efficient, it is vital that fundraisers have a firm grasp on the capacity for giving among their potential donors. This information allows nonprofits to set realistic fundraising goals.
We Analyze assists organizations by monitoring and tracking donor giving history. This gives organizations a more accurate prediction of how gift-matching initiatives will perform.
Virtual tours and online performances help organizations remind supporters that they’re still offering value to the community and that their societal impact, as well as their financial needs, continue even as the nation works to emerge from “stay in place” restrictions.
However, interest in virtual tours has tapered off as the pandemic has progressed, so organizations need to get creative about differentiating themselves. Virtual events like webinars, live music, speaking engagements, or other distinctive experiences are still seeing success.
Virtual events have proven to be effective tools for cross-promotion and working cross-functionally with other organizations with whom you have established relationships, enabling you to expand your reach to a wider audience. Virtual events also offer ample lead time in promotion and can be used in conjunction with email messaging.
Before scheduling an event, organizations should consider how their donor audience will react to the offering. Ask yourself whether featuring the content online makes sense or if it feels forced; proceed with the event only if you feel that what you’re offering will truly appeal to your core audience.
Although the pandemic is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, nonprofit organizations remain committed to their founding mission statements. Now more than ever, certain sectors of society depend on the assistance offered by nonprofits, making fundraising and garnering continued financial support for these organizations increasingly essential.
Organizations must pivot their messaging and delivery systems to show donors the importance of continuing to support them. Being honest about your needs, staying true to your mission, and being careful about how you construct messaging and virtual offerings are all essential for fundraising in uncertain times.
To learn more about the full assortment of tools included in the WealthEngine platform that elevates fundraising initiatives in uncertain times, sign up for a WealthEngine demo today.
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