Nonprofits have lost billions of dollars this spring and summer due to canceled fundraisers, site closures, and the ongoing fallout of COVID-19. A study by CAF America found that 73% of organizations have seen a decline in contributions this year, and that’s especially problematic as the work nonprofits do is more needed now than ever. Not every nonprofit will make it out of 2020 on two feet; some will shut their doors for the last time, leaving countless individuals in need of support.
Fortunately, nonprofits have about four months to turn their 2020 financial situation around. But they can only do so with a creative and effective approach to end-of-year giving. To the nonprofits reading this: this year’s annual giving campaign is going to need to be different this year. You must be thoughtful. You must be agile. Most importantly, you must embrace a digital-first world. Here are the top things you’ll need to do each month to ensure a successful end to the year and shore up your nonprofit’s chances of long-term survival.
Rethink your messaging in September
Goal number one to be successful in your end-of-year campaign: don’t sound like a broken record. At this point, donors have heard it all. They know how hard nonprofits are being hit by the COVID-19 crisis, and they know their support is important to your future. If you want to stand out amidst the fray of competing appeals that are all making the same basic ask, you need to bring the hot button topics of 2020—race equity and health disparities—into focus in the context of your organization’s mission.
COVID-19 changed the way nearly all nonprofits operate and engage with stakeholders. Ask yourself, “what is my organization doing differently to help people and communities respond and recover?” Draft stories that lean on grit, resilience, and the ways in which the pandemic has caused you to evolve your approach for the good of the people your organization serves. This isn’t to say that you also shouldn’t be honest with them about the financial bind COVID-19 has put your organization in. If your cash on hand will only get you through the next three months, don’t be afraid to say that explicitly. Just don’t make it the sole focus of your appeal. A one-two punch of strength-based messaging and transparency will go a long way in building trust.
As you rethink your messaging, race equity should be top of mind. How is your nonprofit addressing it? Donors will want to know. Almost every nonprofit is involved in racial justice work in some way, whether directly or indirectly, and it’s important to be explicit about both your organization’s guiding principles in this area, and the specific actions you’re taking to advance equity. While statements of solidarity might have been enough to get your organization through the summer, donors are going to demand real action steps and accountability as we move into the end of the year. Be ready to share what you’re doing and ready to ask for feedback and support.
Build trust with donors in October
With adjusted messaging in place, you’ll be ready to build a campaign that nurtures donors toward that all-important fundraising ask. Plan a calendar that uses the next three months to take donors on a journey with email, direct mail, and social media. The first touchpoint in your campaign should take place no later than October.
Use the month to introduce (or reintroduce) potential donors to your nonprofit. Discuss your goals through the end of the year and beyond. Thank them for their support if they’ve already given. Then, consider different storytelling mediums—photo and video will go a long way in engaging donors. It might be worth the investment to hire a photographer or videographer to capture the essence of your impact through the stories of the individuals and communities you work with.
Don’t expect October to drive significant donations. Instead, your goal should be making initial contact with donors that builds rapport and keeps your organization top of mind.
Inspire donors in November
November is showtime. This is when you should begin to tell stories of how you’ve spent the year adapting and overcoming obstacles to continue to deliver on your mission and tying those stories to a direct ask to give.
Your direct mail appeal might be more text-heavy, but in this digital-first world, you should also use newsletters and social media to engage donors. Step out of your comfort zone: use GIFs, memes, photos, and videos to pull out all of the stops. Through channels like these supported by the right messaging, you should be able to inspire donors to begin giving—just in time for Giving Tuesday.
Convert donors to dollars in December
Giving Tuesday, which falls on December 1, is your biggest chance left in the year to convert donor engagement into donor dollars. Make sure you’re connecting with potential donors via every medium at your disposal with tailored messaging for Giving Tuesday. Highlight any other fundraising hooks you might have such as a virtual fundraiser or a donation match program.
After Giving Tuesday, you should still spend the rest of the month engaging with potential donors, but begin to slow down your communication cadence or risk them unsubscribing from your mailing lists. Most organizations choose to have a heavy digital presence at the start of the month, around Giving Tuesday, and to close out the end of the year with one more direct mail piece around the holidays.
Thank all of your stakeholders in January
Inhale. Exale. 2020 is over. If you’ve followed these steps, your odds of having pulled off a successful fundraising campaign have increased. Hopefully, you’re on sound financial footing and prepared for the new year. While you have some time to reflect, don’t forget to thank your donors for believing in your nonprofit’s mission, and be sure to engage them in what’s ahead for 2021.
Alyssa Conrardy is the president and co-founder of Prosper Strategies. She is also a board member and development committee chair of the Great Books Foundation.
Walker Post is a social impact consultant at Prosper Strategies. He is also the cofounder and COO of the COVID-19 Business Fellowship Program, a nonprofit workforce initiative connecting talented students to small businesses and nonprofits in need of pro bono marketing, advertising, and communications support.