Salsa Scoop> The Small Nonprofits' Guide to Holiday Fundraising You Actually Have Time To Do

The Small Nonprofits' Guide to Holiday Fundraising You Actually Have Time To Do

Happy December. Snuck right up on you, didn't it? That cold sweat breaking out might the realization -- knowing full well that December is the development sweet spot, and especially the last week of the year -- that you've got to get that holiday ask out right quick, and you haven't had a chance to give it a speck of thought up to now.

Best Practices for a 3x5 Notecard

There are 18 business days from Wednesday, Dec. 4 through the end of the year, assuming you're actually working all of them and none fall victim to office parties, inclement weather, holiday sniffles, or miscellaneous NGO emergencies. For those also scratching out grant reporting, board cozying, postal mail soliciting, major donor massaging, admin drudging and -- oh yeah -- that part of the day that's actually about the mission all this is supposed to uphold -- finding as much as half a working day over that span to devote to online giving might very well be an achievement. And even that might be a questionable return-on-investment proposition if the idea is to, say, bump up your donation harvest by +50% ... from an expected 20 donations. I question how well those of us with the chutzpah to speak from Olympus on the subject treat with that reality for the small and the strapped. Take The Procratinators' Guide to Year-End Fundraising (.pdf), a new joint publication of Care2 and Sea Change Strategies. These are smart cookies, and there's some very good stuff here for building an online fundraising presence. But four chapters of 10 are about what you should have been doing for the other 11 months, which is rather the opposite of what the title promises. And many of the other suggestions (videotape test donors interacting with your pages?!) could only be implemented quickly by an online department so well-resourced that it wouldn't have been procrastinating its year-end fundraising to begin with. Other organizations may have a more basic and pressing question:

How do you get the most return for four hours' work on your online ask?

1. Ask "I have tried raising money by asking for it, and by not asking for it. I always got more by asking for it." -Millard Fuller, Habitat for Humanity This one, you can't get out of, and is obviously -- is it obvious? -- the most important single thing to do. Write an e-mail. (Ask anywhere else you live online, too: a blog, a social networking presence, whatever.) Guidelines for this e-mail:
  • Be short and to the point.
  • Go very light on the graphics.
  • Put the link in more than once. "Early, middle and late" might be about right.
  • Don't link much of anything else (except unsubscribe).
2. Ask Again It's so important to ask, we're saying it twice ... and you should do it twice. Many nonprofits have an understandable bias against wearying their donors with too many asks ... so much so that it amounts to a presumption against asking that has to be mightily overcome. The upside of asking is too great in December to indulge that presumption. Get frisky enough to err with too many instead of too few. Send e-mails at least twice ... even if you have to re-use the exact same copy. (You'll notice that fact more than donors will.) Scheduled dates for these e-mails:
  • If only one, send it in the last five days of the year. Choose Dec. 27/28 or 31.
  • If two, send on both Dec. 27/28 and Dec. 31 -- or alternatively, choose one of those dates and a mid-week pre-Christmas date (Dec. 11-13 or 18-20).
  • If three, send twice in the last week and once in the middle of the month.
3. Ask Clearly It's easy when one has other preoccupations to forget about tweaking and updating even load-bearing pages on one's site. An hour or two devoted to tidying up a donation page is time well spent ... and it'll help the page keep performing better when the odometer rolls into 2008, too. Your prospective donor's motivation to give may be barely and briefly above the threshold for fishing out the credit card. The donation page should be negotiable so speedily that those few seconds suffice to move the thought into action before it dissipates.
  • Short and sweet. Simple text, maybe a single evocative picture.
  • Heart, not head. Emotion beats logic. If you must have the latter, add a demure link somewhere to a page "about our programs" or "how we spend your gift" ... most donors won't click it, but may be comforted to see that it exists.
  • Organization's mailing address somewhere on the page -- both for old-fashioned donors, and for the confidence visible transparency gives to online donors.
  • Everything the donor needs, nothing they donor doesn't. Get the easiest possible form the highest possible up the page with the fewest possible distractions. If you can edit the page's template or wrapper, pare down any distracting sidebar come-hithers that invite the potential donor to do anything but potential donate.

Awesome Best Practices That Should Not Be Blockers in December

I want to be clear that what I've described is only an impoverished version of "best practices" ... but in a world where poverty obtains more widely than plenty, that's just the point. There are many more good things beyond this to do for one's donation program. The aforementioned Procrastinator's Guide is actually, oddly, a great thing to kick back with in January when the maelstrom passes to run an audit on your online giving plans. But time and tide and the taxman wait for no nonprofit. Having to get something done now might mean you have to pick and choose and leave some worthy things undone. I don't in any way advocate skipping any of these following steps if you can do them. (A constituent relationship management tool like -- oh -- say, DemocracyInAction's Salsa will help a lot.) But if you really can't do them, you should know that you have the blessing (from the lower-rent slopes of Olympus, at any rate) not to do them in preference to "getting them straight for next year" or indulging paralysis-by-analysis or any such. A mediocre ask now is much, much better than no ask at all.
  • Tracking. You should certainly track as much as you possibly can. If events have contrived to deprive you of as much tracking capacity as you ought to have: ask anyway.
  • Message perfection. Drop dates might be loose in February, but they're made of steel here. Manage up, down or sideways to insure that futzing over the exact tone, content or layout does not bust appeal deadlines. If the appeal is not the greatest by the time you planned to send it: ask anyway.
  • Targeting. Hopefully, you can filter out people who have already answered your last appeal. Ideally, you can target tailored messages to specific niches within your supporter community. If you can't: ask anyway.
  • Strategy for handling new donors. It would be great if you have some strategy, perhaps even based on tested and measurable performance, for communicating with donors (especially new donors) in the weeks and months after they give. If you do not have anything beyond the donation receipt mapped out: ask anyway.
Happy holidays.


Thank You!

I find your blog to be infinitely valuable. Thank you for all the effort you put into making our campaigns more successful.

Thanks, Sara.

I'm glad we can occasionally find a truffle...

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