What Does Early Spring Mean for Nonprofit Communications Strategies?

This week the groundhog told us it’s going to be an early spring!

Spring is always a good time for re-awakening, rebirth and just plain dusting away the cobwebs.  And what a dreary, grave, cobwebby period it’s been.

We’ve got a lot to clean up, reorganize and rethink. So much, in fact, it’s downright overwhelming. So, as I sat down to write today’s article, I thought about what you actually have within your power to do. Right now. And all throughout the coming months.

I know it’s been pretty hard to focus with everything going on in the world.

So I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tried to pull together the various challenges I’ve seen nonprofit leaders, fundraisers, and marketers grapple with in the past year. Actually, the past years. Through elections, pandemic, climate catastrophes, shootings, war, unprecedented demonstrations of cruelty and inhumanity, and more. It’s a LOT.

But, the show — your good work — must go on. 

In  other words, your mission must move forward. People rely on you to do the critical work of the social benefit sector.

I thought: what can people do now to set themselves up for success as we move forward into high fundraising season at the end of this coming year? It may seem early to think about this, but it’s never too soon to put your best foot forward.

I’ve ended up with four tips I hope you’ll find relevant and timely.

  1. Big Picture
  2. Your Role as Helper
  3. Practical Guidance
  4. Strategic Advice

4 Timely Nonprofit Fundraising and Communications Strategies

1. BIG PICTURE: Message Confidently During Uncertain Times

Whether it’s a marketing or fundraising communication, keep these four messaging basics in mind.

(1) Clarity and confidence

Get clarity on your reason (WHY) for sending any particular message. And “it’s on our schedule” is not a good one. If you want to be relevant to your message recipients, it’s imperative you think about what they want; not what you want. Once you can confidently state your “why,” then assure your message is a clear expression (WHAT) of your rationale. Make these two characteristics part of every message you create. Reason + expression of rationale. Why + what. And don’t muddy the waters. Each message has a singular overarching goal. If may be important information, a solution to a problem, or even an escape from all the “feel bad.”. Highlight what your message is about, and why it matters, in all your communication channels.

(2) Steadiness

Whether you’re navigating a crisis or returning to “normal,” one thing is true: You’re not going away. Not when you’re doing the world’s most important work, solving pressing problems, and people are relying on you. Steady, calm, and measured language will help constituents understand you’re there for them — now and in the future. This does not mean gaslighting or ignoring any elephants in the room. Staying steady means bringing honesty and transparency to your communications. I you regularly obfuscate, or offer platitudes, you’re not offering clarity. Nor are you getting across the message your stability depends upon you and your community coming together.

(3) Urgency

There’s a lot of noise for you to cut through, especially this presidential year in the United States. While keeping calm, highlight the urgency of a donation in clear terms. What will a gift to you accomplish? What will happen if you don’t meet your goal? Help the donor visualize precisely how their gift will make an impact. And, of course, have a plan in place to report back to donors who respond to your call to action so they can trust their gifts were put to work as intended.

(4) Normalcy 

As you create and promote content, keep in mind many people are looking for reassurance or temporary escape. You do need to acknowledge the times we’re in to be credible, yet not everything you say needs to be about politics or current events. Find something about what you do that feels like what you’ve always done, more or less. Continue to showcase the parts of your mission people have always cared about and supported, even though some of the ways you’re implementing programs and services may be evolving.

2. YOUR ROLE AS HELPER: Be the Bearer of Good News

What donors don’t know, they won’t take advantage of – and that will be to everyone’s detriment.

Part of your job, as a philanthropy facilitator, is to make giving to you both attractive and easy.

(1) Inform Donors of New Tax Benefits

You may recall the Tax Reform Act of 2017 significantly reduced the incentive to itemize by roughly doubling the standard deduction and making this option more attractive for more taxpayers. Thus, many donors lost the incentive to give based on saving on taxes alone (luckily, this isn’t the primary reason most people give).The 2020 CARES Act instituted a $300 above-the-line deduction for non-itemizers for 2020 and 2021, but that has gone away too. Also, the deduction for cash contributions to public charities is no longer up to 100% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for those who itemize. Them’s the facts.

Folks can no longer deduct charitable gifts unless they itemize, and they can only do so up to 60% of AGI. But… there are other ways you can (1) help donors get the most bang for their charitable buck, and (2) encourage a larger gift than that donor may have otherwise considered.

While I always recommend you let donors know you are not in the business of offering professional legal or financial advice, and they should consult with their own advisors, this doesn’t mean you can’t inform people about changes in the law which may redound to their benefit.

Your job is to do everything within your power to persuade donors to make their most generous gift. This means make giving easy, joyful and meaningful. Within the limits of reason and ethics, of course. It’s the bare minimum to tack “this gift is tax deductible to the extent provided by law” onto the end of your appeal or bottom of your donation landing page.  It’s basically perceived as relatively meaningless ‘fine print’ that is mildly reassuring, but certainly not persuasive. Because most readers won’t really understand what it means. You can do better.

(2) Inform Donors of Little-Known Giving Opportunities

Not every donor knows they can make (1) an IRA Rollover gift, (2) designate you as the beneficiary of their retirement plan or insurance policy, or (3) gift you a policy they no longer need. They may not even know you accept (4) gifts from Donor Advised Funds. Or (5) gifts of stock.  Be upfront about this in your communications materials, and make the information easy for donors to find. Use plain English, not technical terms or jargon. And offer the name of a real contact person (not a generic “planned giving officer”) — with contact information — so they can get in touch with you for more information.

See other opportunities donors may not know about here. All of these gifts are easy to set up and don’t require paying an attorney to draft a will or trust (something that deters donors from making bequests).

3. PRACTICAL GUIDANCE: Do Spring Database Clean-up!

This is a good time to prepare your lists for your upcoming spring, summer and fall campaigns.

When you mail to wrong addresses it accomplishes nothing. And it costs you money you don’t have to spare! Did you know 10% of all U.S. nonprofit mail appeals won’t even be delivered? That’s because nearly 45 million Americans move each year, and for many their mail is undeliverable because of incorrect addresses. Yipes!

(1) Mailing Lists

Use services such as the National Change of Address (NCOA) at least once a year to keep up with current home addresses. This can save you a significant amount money as addresses change frequently due to moves, divorces and deaths. There’s also a tool called TrueNCOA that will process any file for $20 using the NCOA records of the US Postal Service. They’ll also do address verification and eliminate duplicates — all for the single fee. Many donor database and CRM companies will also offer this service, so find out what your provider has available.

(2) Email Lists and Phone Numbers

Clean up your email lists and phone numbers too! There are donor data append services you can purchase to get emails and phone numbers when you only have a mailing address. For example, Donor Perfect offers this; they claim to find 40 – 60% of the phone numbers you seek. Double the Donation, Bloomerang and Blackbaud, among others, also offer this service. Begin by contacting your own donor database or CRM provider to see what they offer and what other services they may integrate with.

Why not ramp up your efforts to secure donor phone numbers? What you can’t find through data append services, you may be able to find simply by asking donors directly. Ask repeatedly, every place you can think of. Look at your current communication materials. Is it easy, and compelling, for donors to offer their information? You’ll want to be clear this is optional, because you don’t want to depress gift completion. Make sure the place to add/update a phone number:

On your donation landing page.

On your thank you landing page.

In your thank you email.

  • Includes a donor-centered reason people should give you their phone number.

Such as “in case we have questions regarding your gift.”

Such as “so you can easily participate in community conference calls, at your convenience.”

Such as “your number is for internal use only; we will never give it out.”

4. STRATEGIC ADVICE: Thank People Now to Pre-suade Giving Later

The time to make your donors know how much you appreciate them is before you next ask them for money. Do them this favor and it will be more likely they’ll keep your organization on their short list of favored causes.

This is the principle of “pre-suasion” – a seventh principle of influence and persuasion identified by Robert Cialdini. It may seem manipulative, but sometimes this can be a good thing. Especially when the tool you’re using is gratitude. You honestly can’t thank folks enough. Everything we know about gratitude research points to it being good for both the giver and the recipient. There are so many benefits I stopped counting.

Benefits of Gratitude DiagramCourtesy of Happier Human website – data pulled together from 40 research studies on gratitude.

Your donors deserve these benefits! Your volunteers deserve them! You deserve them! 

(1) Thanking Logistics

My preferred thank you method is a simple phone call made within 48 hours of donation receipt. If you can’t do this with everyone, select subsets of donors it seems important to call. You can also farm out calls to board members and other volunteers, but this tends to be less timely. If farming calls out, consider these thank you’s to be in addition to whatever thank you the donor has already received (either in the mail, via email or text, or by phone).

To assure folks make their calls, and report results back to you, requires a little cheerleading, organization and management. You might even try bringing staff, board members, other volunteers and even clients together in a central space for a fun “thankathon” event (with food, decorations, prizes and the like). Or you can create a festive atmosphere by designating a particular day, or several days, in which everyone agrees to participate and joins in a zoom call before and after for a little training (send script templates in advance) and to report on results. Remember: These should be pure thank you calls; not asks for money. These calls should make donors and volunteers feel really good about their affiliation with you. So much so they’re predisposed to make another gift next time they are asked.

(2) A Great Opportunity for Feedback

If folks are willing to chat, take this opportunity to learn a bit more about them. Ask first if they have a mintue to chat. If they agree, ask about how they got connected with you. Always see if there are other ways they’d like to become involved. If they express an interest, be sure you or the appropriate person follows up with them!

Gratitude is most effective when it’s repeated (per research by Dr. Martin Seligman). So don’t let the fact your donor has received an emailed or mailed thank you stop you from connecting more personally. And to give your donors the biggest shot of dopamine – a warm glow from their giving — don’t thank donors for helping your organization be successful. Instead, thank them for the impact they are making.

Want to Learn More about Thanking?

Claire headshotGrab the Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook with six companion volumes that will help you become a donor retention specialist. You can also buy any of the volumes separately. They’re discounted for Clairification School students, and even more deeply discounted as a bundle. And if you’re at all unhappy, no worries. All Clairification guides come with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund guarantee.

Photo by Anastasiya Romanova on Unsplash.


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