We’re already halfway through August. Pandemic or not, we still have seasons and fall is traditionally fundraising season for nonprofit organizations.
If you had a campaign planned for this fall, but are thinking against it, don’t do that. You should still do your campaign. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask.
Yes, it will be harder, which is why you should start planning it now. And summer’s not over yet, so there’s still time to get ice cream and go to the beach (please stay safe and practice social distancing when you do).
Here’s a checklist to help you get started. You can also use this for fundraising campaigns at other times of the year.
How much money do you need to raise?
You may have already set a goal for your year-end campaign in your 2020 fundraising plan and most likely that has changed. Perhaps you were able to raise money earlier in the year with an emergency campaign and/or a virtual event.
There’s a good chance you need to raise more money if you’ve had to shift the way you run your programs and there’s a greater need for your services.
You must determine how much money you need to raise before you start your campaign – raising as much as we can is not a goal.
Do you have a plan?
Put together a plan for your appeal that includes a timeline, task list, and the different channels you’ll use. Make it as detailed as possible.
When do you want to launch your appeal? Plan on everything taking longer, so I think earlier is better. You’ll be competing with other organizations who are doing appeals. It’s also an election year in the United States, but that doesn’t always affect nonprofit fundraising.
Maybe you want to send your appeal letters the first week in November. If so, make your goal to have the letters done at least a week before that. Maybe more if people are working remotely.
Also, how are you mailing your appeal? Do you use a mail house or do you get staff and volunteers together to stuff envelopes? If it’s the latter, it will be harder to get a group together, so you’ll need more time.
Do you have a good story and photo to share?
This is going to be the year you’ll retire your boring, generic appeal letter (more on that in future posts). Your appeal must address the current situations.
A good way to start is to create an engaging story for your appeal. How are the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and the economic downturn affecting your clients/community? What challenges are they facing? Focus on them, not your organization.
You’ll want some good photos for your letter and donation page, too. Quotes from clients will also enhance your appeal.
How did/can your donors help you make a difference?
Your appeal letter should highlight some of the accomplishments you’ve made recently and state what you plan to do in the coming months. For example, let’s say you run a tutoring program. You were able to get Chromebooks for half of the students who didn’t have access to a computer so they could do their sessions remotely. You still need to buy more, and with the pandemic looming, remote sessions will be the norm for a while. This is important because thanks to your donors, regular tutoring sessions help students read at or above their grade level and that needs to continue.
Remember to focus on your clients and show how your donors are helping you make a difference or can help you make a difference. Don’t brag about your organization.
Are your mailing lists in good shape?
Make sure your postal and email mailing lists are up-to-date. Check for duplicate addresses and typos. Your donors don’t want to receive three letters at the same time or have their names misspelled.
Also, now is a good time to segment your mailing lists – current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, event attendees, etc. This is more important than ever. Your current donors are your best source of donations. You should have more success if you can personalize your appeal letters.
Do you have enough letterhead, envelopes, and stamps?
Don’t wait until October to check your supply of letterhead and envelopes. Make sure you have enough. Perhaps you want to produce a special outer envelope. You may also want to create some thank you cards. It could take longer to get some of these things.
Even though many people donate online, you want to make it easy for donors who prefer to mail a check. Include a pledge envelope or a return envelope and a preprinted form with the donor’s contact information and the amount of their last gift.
Stamps are more personal so you might want to find some nice ones to use.
Is it easy to donate online?
Be sure your donation page is user-friendly and consistent with your other fundraising materials. Highlight your year-end appeal on your homepage and include a prominent Donate Now button.
Do you offer a monthly or recurring giving option?
A monthly giving program is a win-win for your organization. You can raise more money, boost your retention rate, receive a steady stream of revenue, and allow your donors to spread out their gifts.
If you don’t have a monthly giving program or you have a small one, now is an excellent time to start one or grow the one you have.
How will you thank your donors?
Spend as much time on your thank you letter/note as you do on your appeal letter and write them at the same time. You need to thank your donors, and thank them well, as soon as you receive their gifts so have a thank you letter/note ready to go.
Handwritten notes and phone calls are much better than a preprinted letter. Create or buy some thank you cards (see above) and start recruiting board members and volunteers to make thank you calls or write notes. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.
How will you keep up with your donor communication?
Even though you’ll be busy with your appeal, you want to ramp up your donor communication this fall. Keep engaging your donors and other supporters (who may become donors) by sharing updates and gratitude. Pour on the appreciation!
Send at least one warm-up letter or email. You could create a thank you video or a video that gives a behind the scenes look at your organization right now. Just don’t disappear until appeal time.
I know it will be hard this year, but you still need to run a campaign. Some donors may not give as much or at all, but others will give more. They won’t give anything if you don’t ask.
Best of luck!