When you put more than 40 nonprofit and thought leaders in a (virtual) room, chances are, they’re going to say some memorable and game-changing things. That was definitely the case at Virtuous’ April 2021 Responsive Nonprofit Summit.
Taylor Shanklin, CEO & Founder of Barlele, gave a Bold Talk, Minimize to Maximize, focused on finding joy and productivity in fundraising.
“We often think we’re being productive because we have a big list in front of us. And we’re checking all these boxes off of that list, but we’re often not actually being that productive just because we’re checking a lot of boxes off of the list.”
Nonprofit professionals are busy, but being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re efficiently pursuing your goals. If you focus on your top priorities instead of trying to do every possible thing, you’ll actually be more productive where it matters.
Identify 2-3 Big Priorities for your day and defend your time to work on them
Sarah Olivieri, founder of Pivot Ground, presented a keynote, The Agile Nonprofit: How to Create a Strategic Plan That’s Adaptive to Uncertainty, recommending shorter planning cycles and an agile, adaptable mindset.
“Every 60 days you should be looking at your strategic goals and updating them. Add in a second process of improvement in two week sprints. Each cycle is a tactical process of improvement.”
Oftentimes, we write our plans in ink when we should be writing them in pencil. By implementing an agile strategic process, you allow your team to have a process of improvement. Shorter planning cycles give you room to adjust to new data and quickly incorporate what you learn into what you’re doing.
Not ready to overhaul your entire organization? Start doing shorter planning cycles just with your team, or just on one project.
Scot Chisholm, Founder and CEO of Classy, had a great conversation with Virtuous CEO Gabe Cooper about Mobilizing Generosity.
“Organizations don’t ask that super simple question. ‘Why did you give to us?’ The answer there could be everything.”
When you ask “Why did you give to us?” you’re opening up a real conversation with your donor, one that gives you more accurate and specific information than assumptions based on broad demographics or your own assumptions.
Conduct periodic surveys about why donors give.
In Engaging Donors and Supporters with Care, Chad Moses, Director of Outreach & Experience at To Write Love on Her Arms, talked about supporter-centric outreach and creating an environment of authenticity and care.
“So much of it is about inviting people to share aspects of their own story.”
Your donors give for a reason and are personally connected to your cause. When you elevate and celebrate their personal stories, you move beyond unsatisfying fundraising transactions, and into creating community.
After you start asking donors why they give, create opportunities to share. Whether it’s a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign or a donor-spotlight in your newsletter, feature the stories of your donors’ connections to your cause.
Jeff Shuck and Jennifer Mulholland of Plenty advocated for nonprofit professionals to move Beyond Resiliency, create sustainable joy, and find flow.
“In the nonprofit sector, we are wired to serve. We’re in this space to provide service and help and hope to others in making this world a better place. And if we are so exhausted in the process, being in that service, we’re not serving ourselves to be able to give what what we can.”
The stress and burnout that faces fundraisers is legendary. If we’re going to reverse the trends of people leaving fundraising jobs, we have to examine the ways of working that contribute to that stress and find other, healthier ways to do things.
As you go through your day, note where you hit points of resistance. Do you have to fight against the current, or could you do something else?
In Mobilizing Movements for Change, Muneer Panjwani, VP of Foundation, Government, and Corporate Partnerships at The Trevor Project talked about the importance of considering the entire landscape of what’s going on in the world and making values-based decisions about how to engage.
“Movements are a living, breathing thing and they take an entire ecosystem to thrive and move forward and have an impact.”
Nonprofits have an opportunity to live their values and support each other in pursuit of good that is bigger than any one organization. Your mission isn’t happening in a vacuum.
Ask yourself: What is happening around our mission in the spaces we occupy? What else should we be paying attention to?
In Acing Capital Campaigns in Difficult Times major gifts expert Gail Perry promoted an efficient approach to funding. She also made a compelling case for why now is a great time to fundraise.
“It takes just as much time to close a million dollar gift as it does a hundred thousand dollars gift. So why not try to develop the prospects at the million dollar level to save your time and energy? You’re trying to change the world and you can take a long route, when instead you could take the shortcut and you can just close it out by focusing again and again.”
With time at such a premium for fundraisers, it makes sense to view activities through the lens of ROI. How can you get the most out of your time and get on with changing the world?
Identify your top prospects and prioritize developing them.
In How To Leverage Video & Podcasting to Retain, Engage, & Inspire Supporters, Taylor Corrado, Director of Brand at Wistia, explained the value of video for nonprofits.
“Video is actually converting audiences. This is a new concept. I think many marketers and fundraisers haven’t caught on to the fact that you can convert people with your video.”
Video is no longer a “nice to have” part of your communication strategy. It’s a must. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you have to invest in expensive production or elaborate campaigns. With ubiquitous smartphones, audiences are used to unpolished but authentic videos, making it easy to dive in.
Record a short thank you message on your phone and post it on your social media.
The Mobilizing Movements for Change panel was full of great takeaways from on-the-ground nonprofit leaders. Blair Janis, Director, Dance Marathon at Children’s Miracle Hospital Networks, talked about moving away from a competitive mindset with other nonprofits.
“We don’t lead single issue lives. How can you be as collaborative as possible?”
The people you serve are whole people, likely affected by several issues. Children who need hospital care also may need mental health care, or literacy services, or housing support. While your organization may serve a single issue, the strength and power of nonprofits increases when they work together. This is true in a broader sense, too. Multiple organizations with different angles and approaches will get closer to the big goals nonprofits pursue faster. If your big goal is something like “end child trafficking” or “improve literacy rates across the city,” you’re going to need partners.
Instead of closely guarding all your fundraising secrets, look for opportunities to share what you’ve learned and learn from other fundraisers.
Julia Beltran, Partnership Success Specialist at Double the Donation, brought some exciting news about employer matching gifts to the Summit in Corporate Matching Demystified.
“Organizations are consistently missing out. $4-7 billion in matching gifts revenue is just going unclaimed each year. It’s money set aside for fundraisers to take advantage of, and it’s not being used. Donors are not submitting matching gift requests. “
Corporate matching gifts double impact for your donors and donations for your organization. You do the work of soliciting a single donation and essentially get two. If you can educate your donors about these opportunities, you can take advantage of these programs, grow donations, and give your donors the added value of using a benefit they already have.
Do you have a section on matching gifts on your “Ways to Give” page? Add one today.
In The First 90 Days: How To Design Responsive, Multi-Channel Donor Journeys That Deepen Engagement, Virtuous CMO Noah Barnett talked about cultivation that leads to donor retention and deeper engagement, based on listening to donor signals.
“How do we continue to use this to cultivate donors over the first 90 days? It starts first and foremost with listening and then connecting personally in real time with your donors, suggesting the next right steps at any given moment, and then repeating that over time….If you’re thinking about donor retention, you’re thinking about how to cultivate this. You have to move from being reactive to being responsive.”
Securing a second gift is crucial for retaining new donors and transitioning them from “one-time” to “regular” donors. Building donor journeys based on their involvement, interest, and intent creates authentic and relevant relationships, the kind donors want to continue long-term.
Start a new donor welcome email series that includes opportunities for donors to ask and answer questions.
In Digital Transformation Dana Heiser, Director of Annual Giving at Washington National Cathedral pointed out something that we’re talking about a lot lately here at Virtuous: Donor retention is more crucial than ever.
“I think the number one hot word right now is retention. We have been so lucky to have brought in all these new donors. How do you keep them? When things, ‘go back to normal,’ whatever that ends up meaning, how do we hold on to these folks?”
A longer donor relationship isn’t just about your nonprofit or increasing donor lifetime value. The value a donor can find in meaningful connection also grows over time. Better donor retention is better for organizations and donors.
Did you acquire new donors during 2020? Send them an impact update and let them know how things are going.
These quotes are just the beginning. For more Responsive Nonprofit Summit wisdom, insights, and practical tips, check out these resources:
Summit Archive: Every session recording, on-demand
Ebook: What’s Next? The Future of Fundraising: 12 Nonprofit Share Insights To Level Up How You Engage and Retain Donors
Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.