Barbara O’Reilly was recently featured on our Responsive Fundraising Podcast, where she discussed the three stages that follow an unexpected world event. First, the response phase, where we each find a way to contain the negative impact of the change. Next, comes the recovery phase, in which we all work together to find a way forward. Lastly, the resilience phase, in which we have recovered and emerge better than before.
From the standpoint of COVID-19, we all have navigated the response phase, which triggered a far-reaching economic tremor. It’s fair to say that we currently live in the recovery phase, and probably will for quite a while. But even now, as we recover, our focus should be on the next phase: resilience. Of course, the resilience phase will look differently for everyone, and it is hard to predict exactly what it will look like for your nonprofit. However, there are ways for you to ensure that the work you do now will increase your annual revenue and improve donor retention while you recover and build resilience. Here’s how responsive fundraising can make that easier.
Going forward, doing things the way they’ve always been done will not work. For the last several years, the fundraising strategies most nonprofits rely on fails to connect with donors. Despite changes in donor expectations, communities and communication channels, nonprofit fundraisers had still continued to make appeals as if generosity was a one-size-fits-all model.
The opportunity that you have now is to take advantage of the recovery phase and audit all of your fundraising, marketing and program processes in order to find what works. Anything that doesn’t have a direct impact on your goals for donor retention or annual revenue needs to be updated, iterated on or abandoned.
The best way to conduct your audit is to survey key stakeholders at your organization and ask them to prioritize the goals for the recovery and resilience phases. Find areas where your individual goals overlap and brainstorm new systems that can serve everyone simultaneously. Ask yourself and your teams how you can leverage existing nonprofit software to reach those goals faster, or with better success rates. Keep donor experiences and efficiency at the center of all your questions so that you can uncover the most important actions for the next phase of your organization and its work.
Just as traditional fundraising tactics have lost some of their impact on today’s world, so too have success metrics. In prior years, you might decide success only by number of new contacts, annual contributions and annual revenue. While that certainly did indicate overall success, it’s not enough to tell your individual teams how they are succeeding and how they might improve their work.
For example, the annual revenue earned obscures the importance of your quarterly donor update emails to the longevity of donor relationships. The number of people at your gala does not necessarily indicate how likely donors are to share their passion about your work with their friends. Responsive fundraisers understand that you must work as an organization to serve each individual completely, not just appeal to their wallets.
As you start to reorganize and restructure your processes, think about how you might define success as well. Create a comprehensive mix of micro and macro goals. For example, after looking at your current data, you might see that a new contact that subscribes to your newsletter usually gives their first donation after visiting your website 5 times. You can decide whether it makes more sense for your team to work to drive that average down to 3.5 or shorten the length of time it takes to achieve those 5 separate visits.
It is much easier to decide on your goals and how you’ll reach them after you’ve done a full audit and understand where each team wants to be by the end of the year. Remember, responsive nonprofits keep the donor experience at the forefront of all their decisions. As you’re deciding which goals to prioritize, always ask yourself it is meaningful to your donors first and foremost.
One of the most impactful changes you can make to ensure growth in the resilience phase is to prioritize collaboration within your organization. For too long, nonprofits have compromised the donor experience because of ineffective silos between teams. In order to ensure your donors get exactly what they need from your nonprofit, your internal teams need to start working together daily.
Think about the last time you visited your favorite vacation spot. The desk associate who checked you in might not have worked there the last time you visited, but knows to say “welcome back” rather than a simple “welcome” because they can see your guest record in their system. The hotel knows that it is important to your experience to celebrate your return rather than treat you like a stranger, so they make it easy for each associate to know as much about you as possible.
Giving to a nonprofit is a much more personal experience for each of us, therefore, the details matter. Marketing materials sent to your donors must acknowledge their long-term commitment. Conversely, a person who is just now getting to know your work and the programs you support will need much more context before they make a decision to give.
Support your team and ensure your success by prioritizing and facilitating collaboration within your team. Make sure that everyone has access to the information they need and a way to ask for new ideas when they need it. If your nonprofit is going to connect to modern donors, they need to execute ideas in a comprehensive way, not just work towards their individual goals.
Finally, the most important step is to start as soon as possible. One of the root causes of the lack of innovation at nonprofits is the fear of failure. Because the work you do is so important, any failed campaign idea feels like waste of donors’ generosity. Unfortunately, that fear has resulted in stagnant growth.
The truth is, donors simply want transparency. If you decide to try a new idea or a new program, talk to your donors about it. Explain why you think it will work and what your steps will be if it doesn’t go to plan. And keep them updated as often as possible. If you have a plan for every outcome, they won’t see any of your new ideas as a failure. They will simply see it as the work you have to do to bring more awareness and support for your cause. Encourage your team to try new ideas and show donors that you’re constantly evolving with them.
As you start to chart your path in your recovery and resilience phases, the final step is to audit your current technology. Does your nonprofit CRM serve your ideas, goals and strategies for the future?
The truth is, in order to meet the demands of our new normal, we’re going to have to let go of legacy platforms that won’t be able to meet expectations of donors. For a long time, individual donors felt alienated by the practices nonprofits used. In order to make the biggest impact in the future, consider how you can change your software suite to do more good.
To get your nonprofit started in the process of becoming a responsive nonprofit, we’ve put together a Nonprofit CRM Checklist. Inside you’ll find dozens of questions regarding your current software systems and fundraising processes. You’ll be able to audit what you’re currently able to do and see what more is possible, depending on your goals. Download the guide for free to get started today.
Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.