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How to Compel Donors and Funders to Give Money Now (Without Getting on Their Reserve Nerve)

Most of my posts are responsive to client inquiries so that other organizations can benefit from information regarding organizational management and strategic planning. In a recent consultation, I enjoyed learning about the perspective of my client who is administering funds from a multi-year grant (that is, of course, written by me)! Being halfway through the funding cycle, and half way through the funds, he is seeking advice on sustainment beyond grants. During our meeting, this CEO told a story where his own board member was soliciting a donor’s support and was curtly informed by the donor that the efforts were approaching the “reserve nerve” status. I had never heard this term before, and was advised that the reserve nerve is the level of agitation after one believes that their last nerve has been expended. This is apparently not a good place to be!

While entertaining, the dynamics are dire because as your agency grows, so too does the need for increased funding, and you will never receive the support you need if you do not request it. That said, let’s review a few pointers that can assist in avoiding aggravating potential donors. This is especially critical if they are among your most devoted supporters.

When capacity building is an organizational focus, do not allow strategic funding to be placed on the back burner. If your agency wants to conceptualize innovative ways to address their mission effectively, I advise you to always include fundraising to achieve measurable and sustainable results. Plan to seek funding:

  1. From the right people- Communicate with those who hold decision making influence at the prospective agency. It is also helpful if they have a personal connection to your agency, like military service or social organizations. I’ve even seen donor interest after finding that a board member has a child attending the same school as an applicant’s board member’s child.

  2. In the right way- Choose a communication style used by the funder. If they email you, you should email them back. They may not be returning your calls because they do not have the time, or simply because they do not want to talk. Learn to be okay with accepting funds, making donors look good, and executing the organizational mission without becoming best friends.

  3. At the right time- State that you prefer support now. Not tomorrow, not next funding cycle, not next year. Be clear and allow prospective funders to make decisions.

Your appeal for fundraising should include a sense of urgency because, like you, supporters are consistently bombarded by end users seeking attention and money. If you can interface today, that does not guarantee that you will have another opportunity to cultivate the funding relationship tomorrow. It is your duty to compel funders to give now. The easiest way to maintain interfacing attention is to talk about the most important thing: them. Donors are just people- they just happen to be able to support your agency’s operations. Like the average person, they are prone to be attentive to things directly related to themselves. Remember that self-identifying conversations hold our attention longer and if we are not linked to a topic, that conversation becomes less significant much more quickly. When fundraising, you’d be well advised to consider:

  1. Talking about your donors. Focus on them. Use their name and second person narrative. They will remember you, and be more likely to write you a check simply because they like you. Fundraising is a business about making and keeping friends.

  2. Speaking about urgent and recent news and use that information to leverage your appeal. Shortly after a major organizational event, milestone, or news story (don’t be afraid to newsjack), you should be appealing to supporters to take action because 1) this is a prime time to establish connections, 2) you already have a pre-made platform to engage in discussion, and 3) supporters are in a good place to reinforce their philanthropy, publicly enhancing their own image.

  3. Reminding supporters of what they will miss if they fail to act now. This is a sales tactic- people don’t like to feel like they missed anything. That is why instant results and reinforcement have the most lasting impact: instant downloads, digital messages, even online shopping/ banking. People are more likely to act if they are aware that they will receive accolades now, rather than being mentioned in a quarterly newsletter later. Being the first to act in a social or philanthropic campaign has a sense of urgency and social pioneering that draws donor interest in the first place.

  4. Offering to match the gift for a limited amount of time to double the original donation. Your match does not have to be monetary. You can match volunteer hours on a joint project, convert employee leave time to dollars, or find another mutually responsive option that maximizes donor dollars. This strategy is also helpful in attracting new donors who seek similar acknowledgment. The key with a matching gift campaign is to have a deadline and only offer it once or twice annually with a window of no more than three to five days. Make sure that you also limit the number of seats available for the matching gift program as well to solidify the ability to obtain timely funding.

While we are discussing the issue of timing, this article also presents another time sensitive fundraising issue: Giving Tuesday Events.

The 2017 national Giving Tuesday fundraising event is scheduled for November 28. It will be the 6th annual event thus far, and it is slated to be, by far, the most successful event yet. Since inception, there have been increasing levels of participation by nonprofits and philanthropic agencies across America. So, without agitating any reserve nerves:

  1. Research potential supporters to find if they will be attending your year-end fundraising event or partner galas. Promote your Giving Tuesday event on your social media sites and tag donor representative that follow you.

  2. Tell funders exactly what the dollar amount of your fundraising goal is and what those additional funds will achieve. Tie in any personal connections as often as if possible.

  3. Plan and prepare to acknowledge all supporters regardless of the size of their contribution. This maximizes their willingness to participate because again, the donation is really more about them and their image. Ensure that your organization employs this donor-focused strategy to represent them well.

  4. If Giving Tuesday is not your year-end fundraising event, (and I do not advise to make it so), use Giving Tuesday to market your final campaign for the year.

Statistically, year-end fundraising events account for 29% of all annual giving to all nonprofits nationwide. That means that the month of December is critical for event planning, especially the last three days of the year because approximately 11% of philanthropic donations are gifted during that time for tax write-off purposes. Accordingly, your organization should be planning to vie for those donations long before the event, and Giving Tuesday is always an optimal time to do that. While Giving Tuesday will never exceed year-end annual events, leveraging it as a springboard presents the element of criticality because any delay will mean that you are missing a tax write off opportunity- and your donors are already aware of this. Additionally, do not skip Giving Tuesday to plan your final annual fundraising event because many supporters will give funding at both events, especially if you ask! Donors are inspired by the national hype surrounding Giving Tuesday, especially if you assist the hype and already have an established working relationship. In this case, donors will even be unwilling to miss the final tax write off at the end of the year.

In conclusion, know that Giving Tuesday is “definitely a thing” and any lack of participation is a missed golden- opportunity to 1) amp donors for year-end giving, and 2) show immediate (social media) appreciation for their support. You can maximize funding during this last quarter of 2017 by promoting your monthly or quarterly giving program during Giving Tuesday and year-end fundraisers. This will provide some accounting support and keep funds flowing into early 2018. Perhaps more importantly, many reserve nerves will be saved with planned and structured giving. Additional tips include:

  1. Making a public announcement for donors to also support any retailers or caterers that sponsor your event. This is a low-cost initiative to potentially cut costs for sequential fundraisers due to increased business.

  2. Asking supporters about their input regarding your fundraising campaign because it will entice them to return year after year with larger contributions because in the end, the funding relationship is all about them. You need their continued support in order to be successful now and in the long


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