Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fundraising Stocking Stuffers

Recent news and polls have decidedly mixed messages for nonprofits right now; some predictions are gloomy, others surprisingly hopeful.

The unemployment picture continues to be bleak and people are still being cautious about spending. Yet according to an American Red Cross survey, only 20% of those polled planned to reduce charitable donations this year. In fact, 68% of respondents agreed that it is even more important to give right now because of the economy; 59% said that making charitable donations gets them into the holiday spirit. And folks who had their salary and/or work hours reduced this year were no more likely to cut back on donations than those whose employment has remained secure.

Even so, these continue to be challenging times for fundraising that call for creativity and extra hours in order to raise the money for your good work. Here a few simple and inexpensive Christmas "stocking stuffers" for your fundraising program:
  • Use free social media. Are you on Facebook? Twitter? if not, now's the time. It's a great way to get the word about your organization, send invites to events, and ask for donations.
  • Try new internet-based tools. Check out this website about a way for supporters to contribute $5 to your organization when they give someone a gift card: http://www.givecard.com/. Consider registering your organization for a possible donation at http://facebook.com/ChaseCommunityGiving. If your organization serves school-age children, take a look at http://www.escrip.com - donations come from participating merchants, and all your supporters have to do is sign up.
  • Seek out corporate matching gift programs. Many local corporations - including Charles Schwab Company, Autodesk Inc., and Wells Fargo Bank - will match employee donations. Publicize and take advantage of these opportunities (for a list of businesses with matching programs, email me at cjay@horizoncable.com).
  • Ask your local bank to help out. Many banks have charitable giving programs. Tamalpais Bank contributes to a customer's chosen nonprofit based on account balance; Bank of Petaluma dedicates money annually for the management of each branch to make gifts to nonprofits of their choice. Talk to the place where you do your banking; ask members and supporters to do the same.
  • Reconnect with lapsed donors. It's likely that you have lost a significant number of donors in the past two years, but don't give up. Try reconnecting them to your organization by asking them for modest donations via a phone-a-thon or a focused email/snail mail appeal.
Whatever strategy you use - whether it be personal contact, email, snail mail, or the internet - continue to speak from your heart about the importance of your mission. Every dollar counts, and every donor counts.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving approaching, now is a good time to focus on gratitude for all the people who contribute to the work of your organization, and to make sure you are communicating that gratitude.

Some ways to express your appreciation:
  • Lists. You can publish and post lists acknowledging volunteers and donors on your website, via email, with printed lists on the walls of your office/facility, and in your print newsletters. People love to see their names on lists.
  • Thank you cards. Always thank people, with a personal note, for their volunteer hours and donations.
  • Appreciation events. Plan appropriate and fun annual events honoring your donors and volunteers. Offer wonderful food and entertainment.
  • Announcements and articles. Send press releases to your local newspapers honoring the contributions of special volunteers and donors; post articles on your website, in your enewsletter, and your printed brochures.
  • Awards. Create organization awards for volunteers of the year and/or month; nominate your most hard-working volunteers for special local awards.
  • Gifts. Send a donor free tickets to one of your events. Take your staff out to lunch after they have completed a big project. Give the president of your board a bouquet of flowers.
Thanking donors:
Always be sure to promptly thank a donor for all donations with a letter including the approved IRS language, plus a personal note, sent via first class mail. But don't just stop there: continue to thank and communicate with your donors throughout the year using email, newsletters, letters, postcards, phone calls, published donor lists, a thank you phone-a-thon, an annual donor appreciation event.

Thanking volunteers:
Thank your volunteers each time they help out, with a handwritten postcard sent first class mail. Keep track of their hours so you can specially acknowledge longstanding hard-working volunteers. And don't forget that your Board of Directors is your most important volunteer crew. Take every opportunity you can to personally express your appreciation for all the work that they do - especially when there has been conflict, differences of opinion about who is in charge, or if the organization is experiencing significant transition and/or challenges.

Thanking your staff:
It's easy to get so busy and stressed out with deadlines and funding pressures, particularly in these challenging times, that you may forget to thank your staff for their work. Know that even the smallest gesture of appreciation will make people feel better, facilitate better working conditions, and foster greater collaboration.

A little gratitude will go a long way towards building donor relationships, sustaining volunteers and board members, and creating a positive work environment for your organization!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Back to Basics: Raising the Money You Need to Do Your Good Work

These are tough times to be fundraising. The economic downturn has affected just about everybody, whether through layoffs or reduction in income or simply a sense of extreme worry and caution about the future. Nonetheless: in order to do your good work, to fulfill your mission, to serve your clients and your community, you're going to have to raise money - and now is the season to be asking. Here are some important facts to keep in mind as you work on your campaign:
  • $308 billion in charitable donations were made in the U.S. in 2008, despite the global economic crisis. Though their ability to give may be more limited, Americans will continue to give.
  • 70% of all Americans contribute annually to nonprofit organizations they care about. This means that 7 out of 10 people you know feel it is important to support charitable causes.
  • 82% of all charitable gifts come from individual donors. Grants from foundations provide 12%, and corporations give a paltry 5%. Fundraising events are labor-intensive projects that cost on average $1.30 for every $1 raised. So: in order to use your staff and board time strategically, be sure to focus on asking individuals.
And it's good to remember that there are just three basic things that motivate giving:
  1. Somebody asked. It's as simple as that. Religious institutions always top the list of funds received - because they ask, every week.
  2. The donor has a relationship with the asker. People give money to people - people whom they know and respect.
  3. The donor wants to be part of the work. Donating money is a way to participate actively and make a difference in the world. People love to give away money to causes they care about - especially when you can demonstrate real impact. And giving connects them to a community with shared values.
Remember that fundraising is an exchange. Your donors give one thing of value - their money, in exchange for another thing of value - the good work of your organization. Your job is to educate your donors about the impact of your programs and services, learn how they want to be involved, provide donors with meaningful opportunities to participate, build lasting relationships with them, connect them with community, and thank them for their support.

Above all, return to your mission. Ask yourself what drew you to the work, what makes you feel passionate about your organization, why it's important, how it has changed people's lives. This is what you want to communicate to your donors. Reach out with integrity with your fundraising, knowing that giving to righteous causes makes people feel good

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Keep Talking: Communicating with Your Donors

Maintaining positive contact with donors throughout the year is an essential part of your fundraising program. Here are a few suggestions for you as you navigate these challenging times using today's complex and diverse technology:
  • Communicate good news in a timely fashion. Don't hold off on good news until it's time for your regular newsletter. If something great happens, let people know right away using email and press releases - this could include an award, an exciting new program, or simply a story that lets people know good things are happening to the people you serve.
  • Communicate bad news, too. Many of you may have hesitated to let your donors know how this economic downturn is affecting your agency - but if we truly regard donors as investors and partners, then we'll also be willing to communicate bad news. Let them know if you've had to layoff staff or cut back on programs. Better that they find out directly and accurately from you than secondhand; plus you'll find donors are both sympathetic and much more willing to help if they're not surprised.

  • Let them know all the ways they can support your agency. Offer a variety of opportunities for your donors to participate. Ask if they'll join your Advisory Board. Invite them to a volunteer work day. Solicit their thoughts and suggestions about your programs directly by phone or through surveys. They may not be able to help, but they will be pleased that you asked - and they will feel more connected to your agency.

  • Let donors know they are your investors and partners. Ultimately, your organization will become healthier and more sustainable when your donors move from viewing their giving as an annual transaction to seeing their investment as an ongoing commitment and opportunity to participate in furthering your mission.

  • Use all of your communication tools strategically. There are so many ways to communicate these days: your website, email, Facebook, newsletters, press releases, phone calls, letters. Make sure your website is easily navigable, with up-to-date graphics and great visuals. Use email for weekly newsletters plus reminders about upcoming events and news announcements; use Facebook to try to spread the word to folks with event evites, good videos, and photographs with donors tagged. But be sure to still use the old-fashioned, more personal methods - letters and phone calls - most especially when thanking people for their contributions of time and/or money.

  • Whatever your message, frame it in gratitude. Preface every communication with continued thanks to your donors for their investment in your work. And make sure your appreciation is specific to their gift and its impact. Above all, remember that fundraising is about building relationships, and expressing appreciation is an essential element. You can never thank people enough!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hard Times & Fundraising Challenges

Guidestar has just reported that over half of charitable organizations in a recent survey experienced a drop in donations between March and May of this year, and 36% have cut their budgets. And the president of the Foundation Center is predicting that foundation grants will drop at least 9% in 2009, while individual giving declines as well.

The message for all nonprofits: assume that the current downturn in charitable giving is going to continue for some time, and act accordingly
. Remember what it felt like back in the 1970's and 1980's, when agencies struggled to make ends meet from month to month? It's time to get used to financial uncertainty once again.
It's also time to be strategic and creative about your strategies. Here are five tips for you as the fall fundraising season approaches:
  1. Set lower, more manageable goals. Break your big dollar goals into smaller parts. This makes it easier to grasp, both for your donors and for those who will be soliciting funds. It also makes people feel that smaller donations can really make a difference. And consider setting a goal to simply increase the number of donors.
  2. Use matching challenges. Raise money first from your Board of Directors and/or loyal donors, then challenge people to match it. Folks feel good when they know every dollar they contribute will be doubled.
  3. Get full and active participation from your board. It is absolutely essential that every member of your board make a significant (based on their means) annual contribution! And it also essential that your board actively solicits donations from friends, family, and acquaintances.
  4. Make it easy for people to donate. Offer easy options for monthly and/or quarterly donations. Make sure the Donate button is prominent on your website and email notices. Have membership/donation materials available at every event. Include remit envelopes in every snail mail newsletter.
  5. Use your staff and volunteer time efficiently. In this time of staff layoffs and budget cutbacks, don't waste your time on more labor-intensive fundraising events or on writing speculative grants. Focus on making personalized asks to your most loyal supporters, clients, and volunteers. Remember: the quickest, most cost-effective way to raise funds is to personally ask someone you know who cares about your organization.
Above all, stay in touch with your donors - and keep asking for their support. Ask in a way that acknowledges the economic downturn, and at the same time stresses how important donor contributions are right now to further your mission and goals.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Good News, Bad News, Part Two: 2009 to Date

If you thought 2008 was a bad year for nonprofits, reports about the first six months of 2009 won’t make you feel any better.

A new study by Bridgespan (from a survey of 100 nonprofit leaders) indicates that, compared to the last six months in 2008: the percentage of nonprofits laying off staff has increased from 28% to 41%; the percentage of organizations making programmatic reductions has ballooned; and many agencies have had to draw down on their reserve funds in order to continue functioning.

Almost all (92%) were experiencing serious effects from the economic downturn, with 45% saying that their financial situation had worsened in the first 6 months of 2009. More agencies have had their funding cut, and the magnitude of the cuts has increased. At the same time, demand for services has increased. Significantly, every kind of funding source has cut their levels of support – including corporations, government, private foundations, and individuals. Revenues from special fundraising events have also been affected.

Small nonprofit organizations (with budgets of less than $1 million) have been hit the hardest - 70% worse as opposed to medium organizations at 38% and large organizations at 41%. Larger agencies have been able to cut overhead more easily, and they also have more months of operating expense coverage in their reserves.

All of these statistics add up to one thing: this is no quickly passing storm. We’ve seen 9 months of challenging times for nonprofits, and it’s not likely things will change soon. Every nonprofit organization will need to plan accordingly, and assume that fundraising will continue to be difficult throughout 2009.

The good news is that 33% of the surveyed organizations reported that funders have stepped up giving to meet the current need. This country has a long-standing history of supporting charitable organizations; despite this unprecedented economic downturn, donors have continued to give to organizations they care about even if at reduced levels. And many nonprofits are working creatively and strategically to protect core programs and come up with new solutions in the face of the economic downturn.

The message is that now is a time when it’s essential to continue to communicate actively with your funders – including corporations, foundations, and individuals. Keep them in the loop about what’s going on financially, and how you are continuing to do your good work. Engage your Board actively in assessing programs, staff, and funding. Let your donors know about your current strategies to balance your budget while protecting core programs. Hope for the best, but assume the worst is a long ways from over.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Good New, Bad News: Charitable Giving in 2008

This just in – despite the economic downturn, charitable giving decreased only 2% in 2008.

The good news is that people have continued to give generously despite economic hardship. The bad news is that donations to most nonprofits were coming in at a standard pace until the final quarter of 2008 – traditionally the season for most donations – and the downward trend is continuing into 2009.

According to GivingUSA Foundation, which has done an annual charitable giving survey since 1956, this is only the second year-to-year decline in more than a half century. The last overall drop was in 1987, which was the year of the Black Monday stock market collapse. The current drop was calculated by Giving USA in current dollars. If adjusted for inflation, total giving was down 5.7 percent. Based on research by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, the survey includes examination of more than 400,000 federal tax forms.

Total giving in 2008 was $307.65 billion, down from a record $314.07 billion in 2007. Hardest hit were nonprofit social services agencies, with a 12.7 percent decrease in donations in a year when many were experiencing increasing demand for help and assistance. In fact, two-thirds of the nation’s nonprofits experienced decreases. Education organizations saw a decrease of 5.5 percent; health organizations 5.6 percent; arts/culture/humanities groups 6.4 percent; and environment/animal welfare agencies 5.5 percent.

Strikingly, in the midst of the recession, religious organizations received $106.78 billion (35 percent of total giving), which represented an increase of 5.5 percent from 2007. Donations to international affairs organizations also increased, but by a mere 0.6 percent.

Individual giving continued to be the biggest source of gifts, with an estimated $229.28 billion (75 percent of the 2008 total) - down 2.7 percent from 2008. Corporate giving decreased by 4.5 percent to $14.5 billion. Surprisingly, foundation grant-making was up 3 percent, to $41.21 billion.

There are two lessons here for nonprofits. The first lesson is that the worst may not be over, and nonprofits should be prepared to economize - and be creative. The second lesson is fundamental to all fundraising: religious organizations continue to top the donation list because they ask. They ask all the time, and they ask everyone, regardless of economic status and regardless of the state of the national economy. So train your board and your staff, scrutinize and improve your fundraising, and keep asking.