Now is the time for resilient fundraising

COVID has, and continues to be, a shock to the system; too many systems - personal, professional, family, education, financial, and more. Within the financial system sits both your organizational finances, and the in-year financials and targets of your fundraising program. In normal times the approach is likely to have been that enough money is held in reserve so that a shock to nonprofit income could be managed for three to six months, or - if we drill down to fundraising - the annual targets can take a failed or slow appeal, campaign or event.

As we know, ‘Normal Times’ are long gone, and they will be for a good while yet. The buffer you may have had for your program and the foundation for your organization is likely at maximum tolerance. Those three to six months go fast. Reforecasting, scenario planning and re-strategizing are all underway, and the timeframe we are thinking of is longer than before.

So what does this mean for your fundraising portfolio? What should it hold to ensure you minimize risk, and maximize the safety net you need below you at this time?

As with any business, a key to success is appropriate management of risk. Risks are always present, and should be identified and then handled. Some will be realized, and some won’t, but being prepared is key. For fundraisers a key risk is failure of fundraising to actually deliver. You ask, and don’t get. Perhaps you get, but not at the level planned. Or you don’t even get to ask, as your carefully planned event got cancelled, or your prospective corporate partner folded – or many other variations on the failure theme. Any of these will hurt if everything is pinned on them. So spread the risk. Hedge your bets. Don’t bet the ranch, etc.

From our experience of working with nonprofits to build a shock-proof, risk-aware and sustainable fundraising portfolio, here’s our top 3 tips:

  • Ensure you do have a fundraising portfolio; not just a fundraising product
    Take an honest look at how you raise money. Write down the incoming routes, and allocate percentages for the year's target. You should have several, and the percentages should be spread. Does your program include individual giving, mid-level, major and corporate elements? Are you using several techniques, e.g., telephone, direct mail, online, events etc? Some options may not be appropriate for your organization; but whatever your cause or audience, make sure that you have a genuine mix and are tracking return on investment so that you can make informed decisions at the next review.

  • Regular sustaining income is gold dust
    For your lower level - or even mid-level - individual giving donors, operating from a sustainable base is key. This means offering monthly giving, e.g., $20 a month, as standard for new donors, and encouraging your existing annual donors to transition to this approach. If your online donation platform doesn’t already offer the monthly option, then move quickly to amend this. If your annual appeal program asks only for one-time donations, then add in a monthly option. And right now you have the perfect opportunity to go to current donors and ask them to consider a monthly gift: let your donors know that they can play an important part in helping you deliver your mission by simply changing the way they support you. This is where the word ‘sustain’ is key. It’s a much better word than the usual ‘monthly giving’ phrase. It doesn’t just describe the literal operation of the gift - ‘I give monthly’; it also states what the end result is - ‘I help sustain this organization’. It moves things from transactional to active, and brings the donor closer. Think how you position your ask, find the right wording for your organization, and push out the request to your current supporters.

  • What you will get to know
    This isn't the pandemic pivot, but rather the good old approach of direct marketing. It's not possible to refine a fundraising program to dial up the good stuff and weed out the poorly-performing elements, unless you have real metrics in place to understand what's going on. And, if you have any elements of direct marketing, then testing should be an inherent part of that. Use this period of increased digital adoption, increased screen time, and perhaps even increased likelihood of donors answering their phones whilst at home, to test out and innovate on campaigns and techniques. You know, the stuff you’ve always wanted to do but have never really had the chance. Now is that chance.

As we continue on our COVID journey it can be overwhelming to think of what the year should have looked like, against how it currently stands. But these current times do offer fundraisers opportunities on a speed and scale not seen for a long time, and with good strategic thinking, risk management and informed future planning, we can and should come out into the next phase in a good place. I’d bet on that.