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It will soon be spring here at NTEN HQ, in Portland, OR. The days will lengthen, the campsites will reopen (hurrah!), and the bulbs we planted in previous years will start to peek up out of the ground. The upcoming transformations will be outward signs of a lot of intentional planning on the part of our ecosystems, and a reward for the effort we put in last year.
Gardens, like fundraising, take planning and effort. You can’t expect a bumper harvest of vegetables in the spring if you forgot to plant them in the fall. Here’s how you can keep your fundraising strategy from going to seed.
Sow on time, harvest on time
Every year, we backyard gardeners faithfully open our almanac for advice on what to plant, when and how. We follow the book when it says plant peas in the fall and lettuce in the spring. Likewise, fundraisers should know the seasonality of your organization’s fundraising activities. Membership organizations often have an annual drive, some are linked to anniversaries or news events, and event-driven campaigns have their own peaks and troughs. Write the almanac for your organization, starting with the harvest times and work your way backward to activities that create thriving donor relationships.
Fundraising calendar template: https://www.mobilecause.com/fundraising-calendar-template/#yearend
Note: This doesn’t mean GivingTuesday. It may mean the opposite, in fact. If the tall stalks are stealing your sun and distracting your donors, find another time to make your ask.
Show care, especially when it’s quiet
This far north, gardens don’t do much over the winter. However, that doesn’t mean you should neglect them. We spread mulch and eggshells around our plants in the winter, when they’re most vulnerable to cold, disease and pests. Likewise, it’s important to reengage your supporters during the quiet times, send them thank-yous, and make your non-monetary asks. Donors often love to be asked to help year-round, and if you keep the conversation going during the off months, they’ll be more receptive to your in-season ask.
Year-round engagement practices: https://grantspace.org/resources/blog/6-best-practices-for-engaging-your-donors-year-round/
Protect your truffles
Most donors, especially the generous ones, connect with an organization because they believe in its values and its ability to meet its mission. Often, that means that your big donors are also people who hold leverage in other ways, such as being a leader in their community or a well-connected person. That means that sometimes, other parts of your organization might want something from them. But, like truffles, sometimes you should leave them in the ground until they’re ready. Experienced fundraisers will know, sometimes it takes years—even a lifetime—in the case of a big bequest.
Who would want you to risk that relationship? Marketing departments do this all the time: Would you mind if I asked Marcus to reshare this tweet? Can I take Ethan’s photo to show his support for this initiative? Would Sadie be available to talk to the Sentinel about our new campaign? And trust me, as a marketer, you have to tell us, in no uncertain terms: No. Sometimes, this means getting buy-in from the very top of your organization. We marketers might think that whatever we’re working on is paramount but we’re probably not going to argue with the CEO about it.
Sometimes, however, fundraisers run the risk of being too precious with our donors. I once worked at an organization that was so timid about asking for money that they suppressed their regular donors for almost their entire summer campaign. They started getting calls from donors who were annoyed that they were running a big campaign and hadn’t asked them for help. It was only then that they changed their strategy and made 40% of their earnings in the last two weeks. Most of them—you guessed it—from regular donors.
A couple of months ago, I fell off my bike onto a row of fava beans, crushing three or four plants and snapping all the struts. After a few minutes of detangling them, I let them be. To my surprise, the next morning there they were, standing at attention once more and straining for the sun. Donors, like plants, are sometimes more robust than we give them credit for. Keep them engaged and push them further with each ask. They might surprise you.
Positive reinforcement for donors: https://www.classy.org/blog/asking-donors-to-give-again-through-positive-reinforcement/