When is a good time for a vacation or break from fundraising?
WRITTEN BY Scott Couchman
The short answer is never. Cool. Article done! See you next time… Okay, I guess I should elaborate.
It is true. Never is the time to take a break. Your organization should always have something going in the fundraising department. Whether that’s in the thick of your campaign, ramping up and getting everyone excited for your event, or cultivating your donors.
So why talk about down time now, when you’re ramping up for some of the biggest giving days of the year? Because, as you get deep into your campaigns for #GivingTuesday and your Year End Giving, your mind will drift to that perfect time. The time after the campaign ends. The time when you can rest and enjoy your successes. But that’s wrong. Your gala doesn’t end when you turn out the lights. Your Day of Giving doesn’t end at the stroke of midnight. Your Year End Giving campaign doesn’t end when the ball drops.
So, lets look at a few ways that you can keep your donors engaged when you take a break from fundraising.
When the campaign is over
A lot of organizations spend so much time and energy on their event or campaign that when the gala or day or event is over, they just stop. Often until next year when they start up again. This is wrong thinking. This turns your organization into that “friend” who only comes to say hi when they need something from you. Don’t be that friend! First off, you should be thanking your donors, thanking your fundraisers and thanking your volunteers. Without all of them, your success would not be possible.
But you are spent. You have a personal vacation planned because there is so much work that goes into your event. That is not only fine, that is probably necessary! But you need to let your supporters know what’s happening. You’ve whipped them into a frenzy, you got them excited about your organization and then you leave? Not good. You need to set expectations and let your supporters know when they can expect to hear more. The best communication I have ever received about down time was part of an organization’s thank you letter, that went something like this:
“Wow, I can’t believe we made it. With all your wonderful help, we not only blew right through our goal, we exceeded it by [this much]. Everyone here at our organization could not be happier with the results. Thank you so much!
So what happens now? Well, you won’t hear from us for a couple of weeks as we recover from putting on this event. After that, once the dust settles, the last of the pledges are fulfilled and the like, we’ll start putting the funds to work. Expect to hear from us every other Friday as we update you on our progress.
Thank you again for your contribution, your caring, your desire to help. If you’re so inclined, check out our website for other ways to continue to bring our mission to life.”
So, a letter like this lets the supporters know that, yes, you will be off, but they also know that you’re thinking of them, you’ll be keeping them involved and they can see the path their donations will take. You’re “off” but you’ve kept their interest alive.
And then make sure to follow through! Do you know how you get bigger donors? Better Supporters? Recurring Donors? You keep them informed. Their donation, their interest has made them part of your organization’s family, and they want to be involved, so tell them what their donation is doing. Frequently.
The Off Season Slump
I think one of the biggest recurring fundraising mistakes I’ve seen with non-profit organizations is that their fundraising team is very inactive during “the slump” or, the period in between fundraising events. They have that one big fundraising event every year, and they go all out. It is phenomenal, and they bring in 80% of their annual needs right from that one event! And so, they ignore their donors the rest of the year. Why?
Yes, I understand that the event is taxing and coordinating, it takes months of planning, and sure, all your supporters are on vacation during the summer, or whatever it is. That is fine. But it gets you into a rut. You’re not only known for just doing that once-a-year thing, but everyone starts to believe that that one time a year is all you need. And it’s that comfortable time. It’s not true.
“Everyone” cannot or will not attend your gala. “Everyone” does not actually want to participate in your Run/Walk. “Everyone” is not around for your Day of Giving Event. To be honest, the Pandemic showed us this. When organizations had to pivot away from that gala to some kind of virtual event, very frequently, their constituency grew. They were reaching more people in a much wider demographic. Smart organizations have realized this and now continue to plan virtual and hybrid events.
Many organizations have now set up their main gala, that takes most of their time and energy, because, well, it does bring in donations and supporters do want it. But they’ll also have a more low-key virtual event a few months later. Something that doesn’t take as much energy. Something they can experiment with.
Make sure you are experimenting! Push the boundaries. Auctions during a gala are great. Auctions that run a week before and maybe even a week after the gala? Bring in even more money. One simple switch and you end up with more.
If hybrid is too complex to organize, have your main event be the gala and have your day of giving online to get your supporters having fun at another time of year. By encouraging them to celebrate with you through their channels and networks, you’re not only bringing your wider supporter base together into the family, but you’re expanding your reach as your supporters talk about the great things you do with their friends and family.
Have you always wanted to try something, but it doesn’t fit the normal experience your organization is known for? Be honest with your supporters and test those waters.
“We have heard from you that several of you would be interested in not only our golf tournament, but something else active. That’s why, this year, we’re going to try something new. We’re starting a run/walk. If you’re interested in participating, click here to let us know. Bring your friends and family for a casual day in the sun and just raise awareness for our cause.
If it is a success, we may add this to our events throughout the year. If not, at least we got to see you one more time this year and that’s special too.
Do you have other event ideas you’d like us to try? Let us know!”
You’re setting the stage that yes, this is an experiment. Yes, this is in addition to the main event. Yes, you are listening to what your supporters want and are engaging them to let you know their interests.
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And so, we wrap up with essentially the same message as so many of our articles mention. Communication is key. Be honest with your supporters. They want to support you, so keep them involved.
When should you take a break? Yeah, it’s still never. But with a plan, with honest communication, with ideas to expand and grow, never is not as scary.
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