Many fundraisers around the world are getting worse results now than they did during the height of the pandemic.
The pandemic has not gone away, but the sense of crisis and community – that widespread feeling that something big is happening, and that we’re all in it together – has faded. That time of unusual responsiveness is over, at least for most of us.
Most likely, those two years will be the high-water mark for fundraising for a long time to come. Now we’re getting back to “normal” – which by comparison looks bad. For some, results now might not just feel bad, but actually be bad.
There’s no reason to believe the current fundraising environment will change in the near-term. Things might work for you or against you. It’s largely up to how you respond to the reality you face.
What should you do now?
By far the most important thing you can do is this:
Keep on connecting with donors.
Don’t be spooked by poor conditions. You may not be doing as well as you want to, but cutting back makes a bad situation much worse.
Cuts to fundraising just guarantee few donations – because you’re deciding for donors that they won’t give.
That doesn’t mean you just blindly charge forward without changing anything. There are some adjustments you should make when fundraising is difficult:
Be clear and honest about your situation with donors
If you’re facing budget cuts or other hard decisions because giving has dropped, let donors know. Because they can help … and they want to help.
This can make you and your colleagues uncomfortable. It sometimes gets board members hopping mad. But it’s strong, reality-based fundraising. Donors become highly responsive when they know there’s a problem. They like to make a difference. They want to help when they know the stakes are high.
Don’t let anyone tell you that admitting great need turns off donors. It simply doesn’t.
If you must cut costs, do it carefully
Many organizations cut fundraising budgets during hard times. They want to avoid cutting back on programs. That sounds sensible, but it could really hurt your programs much worse over time.
The thing about fundraising that’s different from other costs is this: It’s not a cost center. It’s a revenue center. When you cut fundraising costs, you are cutting revenue too. And not just current-year revenue. When you don’t connect with donors, attrition speeds up. You lose donors and the revenue they would have given over the coming years.
Some fundraising activities look like cost centers, especially new donor acquisition. It’s normal to spend more than you receive on acquisition activities, so you might think it’s an okay thing to cut. The painful reality is that’s when you cut off future revenue. You don’t have those donors and their donations. You don’t have a pool of potential major donors. You don’t have those who might leave a bequest in the future. One year without donor acquisition blasts a hole in your revenue that lasts 7-10 years.
The things to cut are unproven, experimental fundraising activities. Those are risky and you can skip them for a while.
Lean in to digital fundraising
Donors’ long pivot toward online giving sped up during the pandemic. It’s up to us to match this shift. Here are some things to start doing if you aren’t already:
- Support direct mail appeals with emails. When you send direct mail, send three or more emails around the same time with the same call to action and messaging.
- Have strong, specific giving pages to match your campaigns. Don’t send people online to respond to your great offer, only to leave them at a generic giving page.
- Make sure online giving is frictionless, without distractions, confusion, or technical barriers.
- QR codes! A few years ago, including a QR code in direct mail killed response. Not so much anymore! Experiment with using codes to send donors online to give.
- Webinars. A great way to connect with donors.
- Keep working to collect email addresses.
Hard times are inevitable. They come and go. Smart fundraisers keep their heads and survive!
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