Nonprofit Fundraising After COVID-19: 3 Key Lessons
WRITTEN BY SCOTT COUCHMAN
Finally, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. More and more people are getting vaccinated, and the number of COVID-19 cases are finally starting to go down. What a year. Time to get back to normal, right? Well, not quite.
Now more than ever, it is time to experiment–to expand and explore. Before the pandemic, so many nonprofit organizations would rely on a single, solitary fundraising event to bring in the donations. Whether it was a gala, a run/walk, golf tournament or day of giving, it was typically a solitary event. Then 2020 came along and fundraising had to change. Organizations began to think differently. Around this time last year, many organizations were frantically trying to “pivot” their live events into something, anything, they could do virtually.
Now, with life slowly returning to normal, many people are trying to fully revert back to the way things were. That would be a travesty. We have all realized that sometimes, going virtual is actually pretty good. Businesses are reducing office space as people work from home. There’s less driving, less overhead. Why shouldn’t nonprofits take advantage of the same? Why go back to using the solitary fundraiser or in-person gala as the primary source of donations when there are so many new, often equally effective options? Now is a great opportunity to take what you’ve learned in the past year and truly grow your organization.
3 Key Lessons for Fundraising After COVID-19
1. Expand Your Communication Toolkit
In the last year, texting saw an incredible rise in activity for nonprofits. People are pairing down their “junk” email and are tired of physical mail. Only 20% of your supporters read your email. Facebook? People are frustrated with security breaches and invasive marketing. People want and welcome texts because they are on their mobile phones and devices almost more than anything else.
Testing the waters with other communication formats would also be wise. You want to be where people talk to each other and that may be a method you are not using. Do some investigating. Are supporters leaving Facebook for Twitter or Instagram? YouTube has risen in the ranks for longer form videos and TikTok has stepped up for more short form videos. Does this mean you need to abandon email, Facebook and YouTube? No! It only means that you need to know where supporters are currently gathering and engaging so you can stay part of the conversation.
2. Try New Types of Events
One thing I’ve noticed is that many organizations think the “closed room” event is the only way they can get a significant amount of donations. Meaning, you have that event with dinner and entertainment. Then, when you make “The Ask,” everyone goes to their phones to text-to-donate, or pulls out their checkbooks to fill out donor cards. They’re all in that one room for a short time and that’s the only way to bring in big revenue.
That story has changed. Hopefully, this last year has shown that the solitary fundraising event is not the be all end all of donations. We’ve seen an incredible number of organizations who simply stream their event online, leave the recording of it up and watch the donations increase.
Many organizations do more with their event than simply livestream it. They’ve turned a previously four hour gala into an entire weekend of fun with both live and recorded videos featuring different forms of entertainment. Both the in-person version and the hybrid version received at least the same amount of donations, if not more, in that limited timeframe.
Still other nonprofits have gone further. Some nonprofits record their videos ahead of time, reveal them for the big event, then leave the recordings available on an Event Page afterwards so donors can tune in when they want. No longer are they limited to a small four hour window to give. They aren’t limited to buying the ticket, setting aside a date and going to the event. They can watch it after work, when the kids go to bed, or when the housework is done and relax while enjoying their time with you.
Other organizations threw out their in-person event entirely and came up with completely new things to try. A month of celebration with donation contests of best talent, best pets, best recipes, best pajamas! Reach a certain goal and the principal will literally jump in the lake behind his house, steamed to you live! These nonprofits got creative and also had great success.
We can never fully replace the joy of being together in-person and there is absolutely room for the gala you’d like to plan. However, by going virtual and doing something a little different, you allow others inside and outside your community who may never have gone to an in-person event to stay involved with your organization.
So, keep your gala, keep your run/walk. But don’t drop the others. Schedule them for different times of the year. Have one lead into another. Try something new.
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3. Go Hybrid
As things do start to normalize, you may find a lot of your supporter base no longer wants to attend a big, in-person event. They may have embraced their introverted side, or may still be a little afraid to be around so many people. Maybe they never wanted to go to that gala in the first place, but your virtual event last year got them excited to participate. Do you now alienate them by not livestreaming your event?
Of course not. You go hybrid. While you have your in-person event, livestream it! Reach and engage with that wider audience.
Sell in-person tickets and also sell virtual tickets. Let them know that important and fun moments will be included on the livestream. It’s a great way to be inclusive of different personalities and people who would like to support your organization.
And now, with your event recorded, you can leave it up on your site or Event Page and more people can discover it on their own time. Have elements of both the live and the virtual and you will have even greater success.
Don’t Put All of Your Eggs in One Basket
In the time I’ve been at MobileCause and the various organizations I’ve been involved with, every one of them has had one major fundraising event for the year. It usually involves a huge amount of setup, staff and volunteer involvement and resources for often only a single day or less of soliciting donations.
Why put all those (fundraising) eggs in one basket? What happens if they can’t do that event? What happens when something is out of their control? Why wouldn’t they evolve?
Well, last year brought unprecedented change, and so many wonderful organizations stepped up and showed that they can and would change, often with great success. In the last year, pivoting was a big word for organizations. Pivot the event, pivot the run/walk, pivot the day of giving into something virtual.
This year, I really hope to see ‘expand’ be the big word. They held their gala, but expanded their reach with a livestream. They had their run walk, but expanded it into a week long celebration with auctions and activities for the whole family. They sent out their newsletter, but their communication expanded when they also checked in with supporters using a text message or two.
In conclusion, get creative. Diversify your fundraising efforts and you’ll see great rewards.
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