Send Your Fundraising Back to the Future

It’s 1985. A teenage boy named Marty McFly catapults back to 1995 in a time-traveling DeLorean. He sees what life was like in the 1950s. And he sees his parents, when they were his age.

Marty quickly realizes that in time-travel mode, the slightest of actions can change the course of the future. What if he directly or indirectly interferes with his parents meeting and falling in love? (Among the film’s take-aways: Time travel will always have an impact!)

Re-watching this movie classic reminds me of the wishes many nonprofiteers have in 2020:

What if we could’ve anticipated what was coming? How could we have changed the course of events to better position ourselves ahead of a pandemic and economic crisis?

Better yet:

If we could travel forward in time a year or two from now, what would we we discover we should be doing differently today? How could we navigate this year to to weather these times in the long run?

Minus the benefit of my own DeLorean, I can still forecast a few key moves based on current trends and lessons learned. Here they are:

1.  Invest in a multi-channel fundraising strategy.
The default has been reliance solely on email and social media. It’s perceived as quick and cheap for lots of reach. As a result, our inboxes are flooded. Pre-COVID-19, email fundraising response rates increased 1% and contributed online revenue increased by 10%.  This slight growth in response rates is huge. While online giving has generally comprised 8% of all contributions, 2019 was the first year that saw any reported increase.

Yet, we know that donors actually read printed communications from the organizations they support. Think about it.  When’s the last time you got something other than a bill or circular magazine in your old-fashioned mailbox during this lockdown? Really effective donor communications are a both/and when it comes to channels. Studies show that adding a digital companion piece to a print piece lifts response rates by 30%.

This year digital spaces have been our lifelines to each other. My guess is these trends will continue. Are you spraying and praying, or are all your communications working together across unique channels to reach and inspire your audience?

Time Travel Tip:
Budget for print communications, which that can be solicitations or stewardship, at least once per quarter. Build a complementary email track that goes out more frequently and connects to the print materials. And stick with it. No matter what the rest of the year throws at us, stay close to your donors and share with them stories of hope and inspiration. If you don’t have the budget for print right away, consider where your donors are online and tap into what we know they want to hear about—your results.

 Embrace social media for fundraising.
Pre-2020, social media giving was on the rise. The 2019 Burk Donor Survey Report found that donor giving through social media campaigns rose 11% in just one year.

Screen use skyrocketed this spring during pandemic shutdowns, and social media use increased. These channels were also portals for donors to hear about real needs and to take action to make a difference, through their gifts.

Giving on outlets like Facebook increased. To date during the pandemic, Facebook fundraising has amounted to at least $2-3 billion of the $11 billion+ donated for COVID-19 relief.

There have been challenges. Some nonprofits don’t know who has given through their Facebook fundraisers. If we can’t thank the donor and steward the relationship, will the donor give again? (Likely not.)  Pre-COVID, I opposed Facebook fundraising for this very reason.  But now we have technologies to solve the problem and serve as a bridge between the donors, fundraisers, and NPOs. Nonprofits ignore social media giving trends at our own peril.

Travel Tip:
Social media doesn’t have to feel overwhelming, if you focus your energy toward clear goals and knowledge of your audience. Determine where you have the most followers and greatest engagement. Adopt software like GoodUnited to help you follow-up message on Facebook and Instagram. Focus your personal stewardship on those who initiate the Facebook fundraiser campaigns. They’re the ones who are celebrating you and serving as your ambassadors, after all.

3. Leverage untapped giving options.

Pre-2020, we saw trends like monthly giving, donor advised funds (DAFs), peer-to-peer fundraising, and Giving Days. Revenue from monthly gifts increased by 22% in 2019 and now accounts for 17% of all online revenue for nonprofits. And GivingTuesdayNow showed us that rallying giving around a specific time frame was effective. $503 million was raised in a single day.

As COVID unfolded, things shifted a bit. Contributions from DAFs skyrocketed to $300 million (up 30% from 2019) and peer-to-peer fundraising through channels like Facebook became central to U.S. philanthropy.

Time Travel Tip:
The eye of the storm is the exact moment to pivot (sorry I have to use that word because it’s technically what you do in sailing) your sails and chart a new course. Now’s the time to make your donors aware of the many ways they can support you. Make it easy for them to sign up as a monthly donor. Put the DAF widget on your website as a gentle reminder that it’s an option.

It’s a year of stress for the nonprofit sector. Looking back to examine – hypothetically – what would have been advantageous may feel frivolous. But in the now, we are always affecting our future.

And we will get through this year. It’s worth waking up to the fullness of the current landscape to be prepared for our future.

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