It’s among the most stressful things that can happen in fundraising: You’ve been through the critical year-end when so much revenue comes in … but the dust has cleared and the numbers are staring you in the face:
Your Year End fundraising didn’t work as you needed it to.
And now you’re in what for many is a much slower season.
Do you just chalk it up to bad luck, hope the damage doesn’t cost you or others your jobs and wait until next year end?
No. You get active right now. There’s a lot you can do to make up some (or maybe a lot) of that lost revenue. Here’s an action plan for you:
First, do a post mortem
Try to discover what caused you to come up short. It might have been any of these things or a combination of more than one:
- Was there some kind of mistake? Did you reach all the donors you intended to reach at the times you intended and with the message you wanted them to get? Foul-ups happen. Data hiccups. Printing problems. Email snafus. Badly blown deadlines. They can really hurt revenue, and sometimes you don’t know about them until you look for them.
- Did you get your message wrong? This one is scary. You need to really look at your whole message and ask yourself if you failed to connect with donors. Did you deviate from practices that had worked before? Did you change something that turns out to have been more important than anyone guessed? Did you send fewer asks than before? It might be helpful to get an outsider to look at everything without your organizational blinders to see things you didn’t notice.
- Did you get other things wrong? It’s possible things happened that made your donors less likely to respond. Did your donors get prompt and well-executed acknowledgements for their donations all year? (When they don’t, they can lose interest quickly!) Did you report back during the year on the impact of their giving? (Failing to do also causes donors to go away.)
- Was the problem caused by the environment? There’s a good chance that’s at least part of the problem. 2022 was a difficult fundraising year for many of us. But don’t jump to that conclusion before you investigate the other possibilities. It’s easy to blame it on the economy and call it a day. Big mistake – it will keep you from zeroing in on solving other issues that may be part of the problem in addition to the environment.
After the post-mortem, put it behind you
You have a lot of time before you start working on this year’s year end. And you have some heavy lifting you need to do right now. So take good notes from your post mortem, set a date for when you start year-end planning, and swing into action on what you need to do now.
Exactly how far behind are you?
Get specific. How much revenue do you need to fully catch up with the current shortfall? How much do you need to avoid cutting programs and services or letting go of staff. Know the consequences you face as a result of your rough year end. That will guide your decisions and what to do in the next few weeks.
Start fundraising in a bigger way now
January and February aren’t great fundraising months for a lot of us. But there are things you can do to catch up with the revenue loss, and the exercise of stating how big a problem you’re facing will help you know what you need to do now.
Here are some things to consider:
- Launch a financial emergency campaign. If you’re in financial trouble, let your donors know. I know it’s scary and makes you feel vulnerable. But donors want to help. They want to help even more when the need is serious and unusual. Tell them you’re in danger of turning people away, cancelling programs, laying off staff, whatever is realistically true. Do one or two direct mail packs, using strong, urgent language. Send out a whole lot of emails. This might be challenging for your board. But they might be more accepting when revenue comes in.
- Contact your top donors. Yes, many of them just gave their large year-end donation. But they will likely understand the need you face now. Ask them to do what they can.
- Phone more of your donors. The phone is a strongly personal way to connect with people and get them motivated to do things they might not do otherwise. Call as many as you can. Consider outsourcing these calls if you don’t have the capacity to do it with internal people.
- Add impacts in your other strong seasons. Many of us have one or more additional seasons beyond year end: Easter/Passover or other faith holidays. Community giving days in some places. In Australia, tax time is at the end of June. Plan on beefing up those seasons in some way. You can likely get more revenue by asking more, especially at those times.
There’s always a way through times like these. But the more courage, analysis, and hard work you apply to it, the better your results will be.
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