For nonprofits, winning by year's end needs to be a year-long effort

The “year-end ask” has been a staple of the charitable funding equation for years. Like retail, this is the season that can define the fiscal year. Black Friday – along with consumer-friendly initiatives such as Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday – has recently inspired Giving Tuesday. Noble as this giving initiative is, it also finds itself strategically hamstrung as it falls on the heels of the nation’s biggest retail spending days in hopes that there is something left in the consumer wallet to support the greater good.

And that leads to a bigger, more strategic question for the charitable sector:

How can nonprofits connect effectively with prospective donors who might already be suffering from seasonal spending and donor fatigue?

Nonprofits can benefit from some of the same separation strategies that entrepreneurs and startups need to apply with investors and venture capitalist firms to gain funding support. It also requires knowing your audience, compelling them to action, and not relying on the calendar to spark donor interest.   

Following are five ways nonprofits can better attract, and work to retain, a loyal donor base:

  • DEMONSTRATE CREDIBILITY & EXPERTISE. Entrepreneurs must demonstrate talent and expertise by identifying real business problems and offer solutions. Investors will admit that good ideas don’t get funded if the right people aren’t in place. If you’re relying on a track record of past successes or name recognition to carry your organization, it’s time to rethink how your people – your most valuable assets – are helping to drive successful outcomes.
  • BE OPEN & TRANSPARENT. Investors demand regular metrics and details from entrepreneurs to see if they are delivering on their promise – and donors should expect similar consideration. Are you making it easy for donors to understand your impact? Is data relegated solely to your annual report? Proactively share your impact on both the financial and compassion meter regularly with your audience and take ownership for all that you do – even as you grow and learn to do it better.
  • TELL COMPELLING STORIES – AND NOT JUST AT YEAR'S-END. What you do and why your organization is worthy of being funded needs to be part and parcel of every nonprofit story. It’s the organization’s responsibility to raise awareness as well as funding if meaningful change is to occur. So get personal. Share insights from individuals who benefit from or impact your organization’s work. Leverage video to bring those real stories to life for the donor. And strike a balance between successes and the emotional reality of what you’re facing. As you tell authentic and compelling stories, existing and prospective funders can see that progress is being made without losing sight of a need that demands greater attention.
  • EMPOWER YOUR DONORS TO SHARE THEIR STORY – AND YOURS. Leaders and development officers will always serve as chief fundraisers, but they also need to be relationally engaged and recognize how their donors are being transformed, and then identify the right avenues to have them advocate from the heart and personal experience. This third-party validation of your organization's work often can reach and inspire a group of prospective donors that may never appear on a prospect list.
  • BRAND PRESENTATION MATTERS. Donors will judge the book by its cover. Like it or not, perception matters. But today brand strategy and communication tools that enhance brand credibility are accessible to all, including those with limited budgets. If extreme frugality has been your branding and communication strategy, then carefully consider what your brand might be communicating before you ever get a chance to speak with a donor.    

While many charities hope to hit a home run on Giving Tuesday, some inevitably will strike out. But all can take a cue from Cal Ripken – baseball’s most reliable player to ever play the game – by showing up every day and finding ways to make an impact. In doing so, nonprofits can demonstrate to donors that they have compelling reasons to be charitable that trump the well-intended, once-a-year plea.    

Your organization’s story is unique. How are you making it compelling? And how is your year-long strategy taking the pressure off the year-end ask?


A version of this post first appeared on re:charity.