Changing our Mindset to "And"
Questions I hear often from fundraisers and nonprofit leaders:
When will we get back to our regular calendar of galas and events?
Between online and in-person galas, which should we do?
How can we focus on legacy or monthly giving programs when we have to spend time cultivating and stewarding our existing donor lists?
How can I make time to work with new donors who aren’t a clear prospect for a major gift?
Why would I spend time pushing monthly giving when I need to focus on larger gifts?
Why can’t I keep my relationship with a donor just because they’re now in a higher giving tier?
These questions made me frustrated and sad, as they reveal the dysfunction and, in my opinion, the absurdity of the way fundraising is done today.
Since I’m committed to providing solutions to the challenges facing nonprofits, I won’t throw up my hands in frustration and will instead give you my answers to each of these questions — from the perspective of a major donor, board member, and fundraising coach/advisor. Hopefully, together, we can render these questions moot.
1) When will we get back to our regular calendar of galas and events?
The “regular calendar” doesn’t (or shouldn’t) exist anymore. The last several years may have been a (rather large) bump in the road, but the road looks (and is) different now. That’s not a bad thing — it’s just different. In fact, with the time that we had to evaluate what we do and how we do it, and with the advent of new and easy-to-use technologies, we can re-imagine our calendar of events to better fit today’s realities.
Galas and events should be looked at in the context of helping your organization and your cause instead of as “must-haves” from past decades. In other words, if the only reason you do something is because “it’s always been done”, that’s not good enough.
2) Between online and in-person galas, which should we do?
We now have several years of experience with virtual events — a method of doing events that was almost unheard of prior to the pandemic. Many of us were surprised and pleased when we realized that we could put on a successful event that was online-only and still bring in lots of (net!) revenue. We also learned that many of our donors/supporters actually prefer online events, which are often shorter time-wise, less expensive, and even easier to produce (as many of these are pre-recorded). To top it off, they allow us to have multiple “special guests” and speakers (as they can be zooming in from anywhere), and, my favorite benefit — they allow worldwide instead of local reach. That means more visibility for your organization and more prospective donors — at a very minimal cost.
Still, many of us love going to events and enjoy seeing and meeting friends and colleagues. The virtual “champagne toast” was cute, but isn’t quite the same as clinking those glasses in a room full of happy supporters. Seeing each other and messaging online will never be the same as seeing and hugging your friends IRL (“in real life”). Also, in some cases, the in-person events make it easier to secure large sponsorships, and ticket prices can be much higher, as many of the virtual events included free “admission” and made most of their revenue from real-time fundraising and sponsorships.
So the answer to the question is to do them both. In my opinion and my experience, a hybrid event gets you the best of “both worlds” and is much more inclusive — as those who want to wear formal attire can enjoy the same event (for the most part) as someone who wants to wear their pajama pants and bunny slippers. (!)
3) How can we focus on legacy or monthly giving programs when we have to spend time cultivating and stewarding our existing donor lists?
Please please read the research (and my many past newsletters on this) that show that neither legacy giving nor monthly giving precludes individual gifts or annual giving. Both — in fact all of these types of giving — can come from the same donor, for different reasons. The key is to fully understand what drives donors to give in each of these ways. Did you know that for most nonprofits, monthly donors are more likely to continue their monthly billing year after year, and become more “sticky” as time goes on, in contrast to annual donors, whose likelihood of giving in subsequent years decreases over time?
4) How can I make time to work with new donors who aren’t a clear prospect for a major gift?
This one’s a bit tricky, depending on the size of your organization and its structure. In general, though, the answer is that you (or your organization) MUST make time to bring in new donors. Plain and simple, continuing to focus on the same donors year after year and ignore newer, “up-and-coming” donors will very likely kill your organization’s opportunity for long-term sustainability. Even more disturbing is that doing so may turn off interested donors from giving to any organization — negatively impacting our sector overall in the long term. (Not to mention negating a new donor’s desire to be impactful and purposeful.)
5) Why would I spend time pushing monthly giving when I need to focus on larger gifts?
See #3 above, and also know that (a) a robust monthly giving program is far less expensive to manage than any other type of giving, and (b) it will help your cash flow in the non-December months, helping your operations year-round. Focus on both types of gifts!
6) Why can’t I keep my relationship with a donor just because they are not in a higher giving tier?
This is one that I didn’t know was a “thing” until recently. After over a decade of giving, I couldn’t understand why my “stewards” (contacts) at nonprofits I support often turned me over to a different person to be my daily contact. Had I possibly offended the first person in some way? It was only in the last several months that I understood that many nonprofits have a policy of assigning different fundraisers to a given donor as their giving increases. That idea sounds great if we all have strict transactional “relationships”, but if the relationships are authentic (as they should be), the policy causes negative feelings and often a sense of loss. Those feelings, in turn, make a donor not so interested in continuing their giving to that NPO.
The answer to this is to take time to understand the relationship that exists between a donor and a fundraiser. If that relationship is positive at all (which is likely is, if the donor is giving more and more money), then don’t “kill” that relationship by switching out fundraisers. The best solution is to keep both the junior and the more senior fundraisers attached to the donor, and in the best-case scenario, ask the donor what they prefer. Would they like to continue working with the same, more “green” fundraiser, with some periodic advice from the more senior fundraiser, or would they prefer to have the higher-level fundraiser take the lead, with perhaps the more junior fundraiser still being part of the “team”? When in doubt, be transparent about the issues and reasons for change, by asking the donor what they’re most comfortable with. “Both” might just be the answer.
Think these things through. You’ll find that, even with tight resources, “and” might be a significantly better answer than “or”.
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