Many stories about the holiday season bemoan supply chain issues, throwing frenzied shoppers into a panic about acquiring sought-after toys and desired gifts. However, for those in the nonprofit and development industries, the main concern centers on end-of-year fundraising. And since fundraising money does not grow on trees, strategy and tactics for communicating organizations’ needs is extremely important.
And with now-annual events like Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday) encouraging new donors, it can seem like seasonal asks have grown into a flood of digital email outreach, direct mail avalanches and a cacophony of little red bells. For many communicators, standing out from the pack is a vital goal.
PRNEWS chatted with communication pros at nonprofits and charities to find out how your fundraising campaign can pop in a crowded market.
It goes without saying that ample time is necessary to develop a communication strategy in any sector. In fundraising communication, it’s not as easy as posting a GoFundMe link on Twitter. It’s essential to do extensive planning, goal setting and research well ahead of time.
Some organizations plan a year in advance. Others believe summer is enough time for ideation and construction of branding and messaging, including graphics or digital elements.
Regardless of when communicators begin work, those we spoke with emphasize a universal PR theme: know what your audience wants and needs.
“We believe that understanding and cultivating personal relationships matter and are key to inspiring generosity,” says Wale Mafolasire, CEO and co-founder of charity app Givelify. “Once you know your donors, you can create a more personal approach to how you engage with them.”
Givelify and other platforms boast an AI-powered analytics studio that includes donor insights like giving frequency, trends, style and more. Similar platforms include DonorSearch, FundraiseUp and Salsa Engage.
Fundraising Communication Tips
In our interviews, the communicators mentioned the importance of strategic messaging, a clean user experience and continuity. Being clear and consistent as well as utilizing unique storytelling makes the most impact. Something as simple as sharing goals on social media can move people toward donating. And don't forget the CTA, which in this case is requesting a donation.
“It seems simple...organizations build their story and platform, but don’t take the final step of inviting people to give a donation,” Mafolasire says.
For Molly Gutterud, VP, university communications and advancement at Northcentral University, storytelling is a huge part of attracting donors’ attention.
“Our students are our greatest ambassadors for the power of giving,” Gutterud says. “Their stories are amazing, and we find as many opportunities as we can to let them shine.”
“Take this holiday season to rally [donors] behind your mission or a specific cause,” he says. “When telling your story, we recommend the use of videos, pictures, testimonials, blogs and any other media to showcase your mission and the people and communities that you have helped. There is nothing more powerful or persuasive than all the good work you have done in the past and plan to do in the future.”
And, of course, there’s power in repetition. Sean Sullivan, PR manager at Wreaths Across America, emphasizes a consistent message.
“The way to think about fundraising is [like branding]—you want it to be consistent across all mediums,” Sullivan says. The approach can differ depending on the channel, but the message must be consistent "to let your audience know ‘It's that time of year again.’”
Setting Yourself Apart
However, you may have the best intentions, the most touching story, and yet you still battle against a sea of messages. Good timing can help.
In 2020, 33.1 million U.S. adults participated in GivingTuesday in some fashion, with donations totaling more than $2.47 billion in the U.S. alone, according to Caryn Stein, former CCO, at Giving Tuesday.
Leveraging giving moments can help tap into a sense of community and urgency. In addition, some of the most successful campaigns are cross-collaborations.
“When there's a chance to engage everyone in your community—from individuals to youth groups to small businesses and more—that generates a sense of excitement and unity that inspires more people to act,” Stein says. “Campaigns that offer more than one way to get involved tend to inspire more giving, as we know that most people who give on GivingTuesday take more than one action.”
For Gutterud, encouraging a little friendly competition among alumni groups can engage a donor base.
“We’ve seen success through peer-to-peer campaigns,” she says. “You set up a campaign, appoint team ambassadors, and each team has a fundraising goal to meet. You can incorporate prizes for the various achievements of each team (i.e. most engagements, first to meet a milestone goal, etc.) as they work toward achieving their team fundraising goal. It’s a fun and engaging way to build excitement for a good cause.”
For another institute of higher learning, the University at Buffalo, the advancement team took a second look at a classic social media tool with a lot of potential.
“While YouTube isn’t new for us or for many nonprofits, it is a channel we’ve had a middling presence in for a long time,” says Joseph DiDomizio, senior director of communications and content strategy, University Advancement.
“YouTube is the second-largest search engine, owned by the first largest search engine, so we’re trying to work on that platform to build a better presence and launch a handful of strong and inspiring videos alongside our general solicitations,” DiDomizio says. “We’re hoping with the addition of this mix to the channel with consistently programmed and interesting content, we’ll be able to raise awareness of UB at this crucial time, which will lead to gifts before the calendar year end, and into the future.”
Seamless User Experience
Another often overlooked, yet essential, aspect of sponsoring a successful campaign is execution. Just making sure everything works and it's easy for donors to give.
In 2020, giving platform MobileCause caused a crisis for many nonprofits when it experienced outages during Giving Tuesday.
One of the MobileCause takeaways is that it's wise to include include more than one outlet for giving.
“During the holiday season, people are busy,” Mafolasire says. “They’re with family, shopping, working, traveling, volunteering—you want to make sure you reach them where they are. Making giving easy, safe and efficient—from anywhere—is always helpful."
In addition to encourage donating through [a] mobile giving app, organizations can add a donation button to their website and social media channels. "Whenever people connect with you digitally, they have an easy way to give,” he adds.
And if something goes awry, Sullivan says it’s important to have a team of experts to manage the situation.
“We've already reached out to the media, contacted our email database, and put plans in place for 'all hands on deck' help to handle the potential surge [on Giving Tuesday], which should minimize any potential customer service issues,” he says.
“The best way to prepare is to have a staff of dedicated people who truly care and know as much about the organization as possible.”
And last, if you want to make that ask easier next year, be sure to update donors with information on what their money did. Communication should not end, but begin when someone hits that donation button.
“Remember to say 'Thank You,'” Mafolasire says. “Showing gratitude and recognizing the generous gifts your organization received goes a long way with your donors. Provide updates to how the donations they gave were used and the impact that you made collectively.”
Gutterud even takes pride in relying on a traditional method of displaying gratitude.
“Demonstrating the impact of contributions remains important for many donors. So, a vibrant annual report is a must," she says. The report can be either digital or print, depending on your budget and audience.
And while it's considered old school, a handwritten note to key donors "can go a long way to demonstrate appreciation and thoughtfulness, which, in turn, inspires future giving.”
Nicole Schuman is a reporter for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal
[Editor's Note: This article was updated in Nov. 2022]