“Full tilt boogie!”
When I was a coxswain on my college rowing team, this was the call my coach taught me to use for “full steam ahead.”
A boat that is fully engaged feels like it’s levitating over the water. It’s exhilarating. But it doesn’t happen without the total coordination of every rower in that boat. To reach the point of “full tilt boogie” I had to gradually build our pace, ensuring that the rowers were in sync, blades hitting the water at the same time, all pulling with the same degree of intensity. Only when it was time did the call go out, and then the rowers gave their all.
As a fundraiser, you’re at the helm for relationship building and sustainability. So think of the year-end fundraising push as your “full tilt boogie”:
Donors are looking to make year-end contributions to include in their tax returns. Nonprofits are using this fourth quarter to either close their fiscal year revenue goals or make a big push toward benchmarks. But year-end fundraising is not isolated from the rest of the year. It takes preparation and coordination throughout the year to build the necessary momentum.
What are you doing now to set the pace and ensure success for your year-end campaign?
Here are three things to keep in mind:
- Donors give (and give again) when they feel their gift has made a difference. They stop giving when they are oversolicited. The definition of oversolicitation is not just frequency of asking for a gift. It’s the feeling that a donor is being asked for a gift without knowing if the last gift they gave made a difference. Review your annual donor communications calendar. Have you thanked promptly, genuinely, and often up to this point? Have you told your donors that their support helps solve a problem you both care about? Have you used impactful success stories to illustrate that problem solving? Here’s a hint—newsletters are fine but are not the only way to connect with your donors about their impact. Your board (or the other rowers in the boat) can be part of stewarding your donors.
- Fundraising is not cookie-cutter. The misconception is that it’s done by sending out lots of mass mailings, or through endless robocalls from a phone bank, or through blanketed foundation grant proposals. The most effective fundraising strategies look critically at how donors are supporting a nonprofit (online, direct mail, events, etc.), at who the donors are, and at what levels they are engaged. Running analytics on your database can help you see where you benefit from personally reaching out to your donors through phone calls or personal notes. If you don’t have a mid-level giving program specifically designed to encourage upgraded giving, now’s probably not the time to pull one together. But you can start to sow the seeds by making personal outreach to those donors. The small act of calling a donor to thank them or to tell them you’ve missed them will go a long way.
- Your donor communications are multi-channel. We are all bombarded with nonstop access to information. As you connect with your audience over the next few months, aim for a consistent message conveyed through multiple electronic and print channels. They should link to each other and together invite the reader to partner with you in problem-solving.
In the windup to the year-end push, have you ...
- reported back to your donors and celebrated them for their support of you?
- told your lapsed donors how much you miss them?
- created a multi-channel story that highlights the problem you’re solving, the solution you’re offering, so your solicitation becomes an invitation to your audience to help?
When you can check off each of these, it’s “full tilt boogie” time.
Barbara O’Reilly, CFRE, has 25 years of fundraising experience at major nonprofit organizations including Harvard University, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Oxford University in England, and the American Red Cross. She has experience developing successful relationships between donors and nonprofits through annual funds, capital campaigns, major gifts from high net-worth individuals and corporations, direct mail, and stewardship.