Why great fundraising campaigns fail & how to ensure yours succeed!

It was a brilliant fundraising campaign. Your appeals were superb. You knocked it out of the park on social media. Your campaign video brought tears to your own eyes.

So why wasn’t your last campaign a wild success? Where did you go wrong? Maybe you didn’t do anything wrong at all. If your end-of-year (EOY) campaign revenue was flat or down in 2018, you certainly weren’t alone.

The numbers are in and according to M+R’s EOY Fundraising Report, December 2018 fundraising returns were down for most organizations.

M+R isn’t the only organization reporting mediocre results. The Fundraising Coach reports that 48% of nonprofits surveyed said December fundraising revenue was lower than last year, while 17% said December fundraising was flat in comparison to last year. That means 65% of US nonprofits did NOT see growth during the 2018 EOY giving season.

Does this surprise you?

As a fundraising consultant involved in multiple EOY fundraising campaigns, these results shocked me. Most of my clients had record-breaking years. Here’s how our numbers stacked up:  

Why did my clients’ annual revenue and average gift size increase in December while the majority of nonprofits experienced declines? Some say low or stagnate numbers had to do with external factors like the new tax law, stock market turbulence, political factors, or a growing focus on Giving Tuesday.

Sure, these factors may have played some role in lack-luster EOY results. But I believe my clients were able to overcome these factors because of the smart strategies they employed throughout the year and months leading up to their EOY campaigns.

You see, great fundraising doesn’t begin with a great case for support, an awesome appeal letter, a brilliant campaign plan, or big investments in events and technology.

Great fundraising campaigns begin long before your first call to action. Great fundraising is built upon 3 marketing principles that form the foundation of any worthwhile marketing and fundraising program.

3 Keys to Fundraising Campaign Success

1) A Solid Messaging Platform

Before anyone ever decides to give to your organization, they need to understand what you do, who you do it for, the impact you’re making, and why your organization does what it does better than the rest.

And they need to have heard that message 7-14 times just to remember who you are when you finally do ask them to give. 

Months of consistent messaging leading up to your campaign is critical to your success. Memorable, compelling, and consistent messaging needs to be communicated frequently across all your communications channels.

Repetition is key. But so is relevance. Your messaging strategy should include targeted messages that speak directly to the interests and cares of each “donor persona” and audience segment.

Only after your key messages have been heard again and again, will your audiences be ready to hear your case for support and respond to your call-to-action (CTA).

2) Relentless Pursuit of Relationships

Great fundraising doesn’t happen without authentic relationships with people who feel connected and valued by your organization.

With so much competition for donors out there, it’s more important than ever to establish stro connections with your donors.

Nonprofits that have systems designed to deepen donor relationships see more donations, bigger gifts, and higher donor retention rates later.

These systems don’t need to be complex. They simply need to invite donors to engage in ways other than making monetary gifts. Phone calls, meet-and-greets, coffee meetings, hand-written notes, and personalized emails are a good start. Here are 10 more tips for engaging authentically with donors.

You also need to focus on making each donor feel like the most important person in the world. Begin by thanking them in thoughtful and meaningful ways. Continue connecting with them frequently (7-12 times a year) to reiterate their value and to tell them about the impact their gift is making.

Thank your donors for their support and report the impact of their gifts often. A strong thank-and-report strategy is at the heart of every good donor relations program. By regularly hearing about the impact they’re making, your supporters will want to continue playing an active role in your organization.

Need help coming up with more ways to appreciate your donors? Here are 5 ways to tell your donors you love them, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

3) Storytelling…All Year Long

Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” These are words nonprofit communicators and fundraisers should live by.

We are emotional beings. We’re inherently wired to give to causes that provoke an emotional response. And one of the most effective ways to trigger an emotional response is through storytelling. In fact, emotional storytelling is 31 percent more effective than any other type of marketing. 

Create and keep your audiences and donors connected and inspired by regularly sharing real stories about real people (or animals) facing real challenges, with real solutions they can be a part of.

Share these stories with your audiences frequently through emails, blogs, social media posts, YouTube and any other channels relevant to your audiences.

Integrate your key messages into these stories, and don’t forget to employ a donor-centric approach. Because in the end, it really is all about them.

Resolve to Focus on the Basics

It’s a new year. Resolve to make your fundraising campaigns more successful in 2019 by focusing on what’s really important long before you make your first appeal.

  • Create or update your messaging framework.
  • Establish and implement systems to deepen relationships with donors.
  • Develop a plan to help you tell great stories all year long.

Focus on these 3 things now (and always) and your audiences will be inspired to give bigger gifts more frequently for years to come.

Do you have other suggestions for laying the groundwork for great campaigns? I’d love to hear them. Share your ideas in the comments below.

Need help with messaging, donor relations, or storytelling? Smack Dab can help. Shoot me a message at sarahlambie@smackdabcommunications.com.

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