Fundraising Campaigns & Strategic Planning Insights

Leaning Into the New Normal: A practical guide on lessons learned from 2020 to make 2021 your best year ever

As we start the new year with hope and renewed energy, on behalf of all at S. Sutton & Associates Inc., I would like to thank you for your amazing support and friendship throughout the year.

This past year has been one of unprecedented challenges for all of us. We have had to “pivot” as the world changed from one day to the next. For non-profits, it was especially stressful: Would our donors stay with us? Should we even ask when so many lost their jobs? If they gave in the spring for COVID, would they give again at year-end?

It was a year of questions and not a lot of answers.

So as we turn the page to 2021, first of all: THANK YOU for the difference each of you are making in the world! If you are left with worry over what this year may hold, I would like to offer a simple 5-step, practical guide to get you started on the right foot. Things you can do today that will make a difference for your organization going forward. Let’s get started. Together – I’m right here with you.

Changes in Attitudes and Behaviours Post-COVID

We can look to the world of retail for research (McKinsey & Co., Aug.2020; Shopify, Sept. 2020; Government of Canada, 2020) into consumer trends and the future of commerce. As non-profits, it wasn’t just you who adapted – consumers changed their habits as well, and these trends can translate to donor attitudes and behaviours.

Brick and mortar as we know it will transform.

Consumers have shifted to likely permanent ways of online purchasing, comfort with contactless payment, and expectation of transparent hygiene practices including quicker, contactless delivery. There is also a rising interest in locally made, environmentally sustainable, and socially conscious products.

Rise of the homebody.

People are spending more time at home, eating at home, using online entertainment and streaming, and at-home fitness. Consumers are reluctant to resume activities related to large gatherings.

There has been a demonstrated consumer shift and McKinsey has divided them into the following categories:

  1. Affluent and Unaffected. Mostly male, earning over $100,000/year, stay/work at home, shop online, has job stability, and positive economic outlook.
  2. Uprooted and Underemployed. Have faced major impact on finances and health due to job insecurity. Cautious about how they spend money with a negative economic outlook. Trading down to essentials and value for money, swapping brands, and shopping online.
  3. Financially Secure but Anxious. Cautious about spending money. They feel their jobs/job security has been impacted by COVID. Significantly represented by minority groups and rural populations. Feel less likely to be able to work from home, strongly moving towards shopping for essentials and value for money.
  4. Disconnected and Retired. This group of retirees is 65+, with less annual income than the above groups; however, are broadly optimistic in economic conditions and don’t demonstrate a lot of change in their shopping behaviour.

These are your donors as well. As you look at researched trends and attitudes, what changes will you keep doing? Stop doing? And transform?

Step 1: Conduct an Organizational Analysis

First thing Monday morning, gather your team together – All of them! Everyone has a role to play – and take the time to review the changes that COVID brought to you.

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • What changed?
  • What can you do about it? (Hint: you may find the answer to this below)

For many non-profits, COVID has had a major impact on events fundraising. Most pivoted to virtual events, but many did not realize the fundraising goals of the past. With consumer behaviour above, this is one area that is likely to need to be re-examined.

Step 2: Develop Budget Portfolios

January or fiscal year-end leads to budget planning. As you look to your revenue streams, keep the donor trends and behaviour spending in mind. What changes can you effect to make it easier, convenient, touchless and fast for your donors? You might consider a POS system (touch/tap) that donors can do on-site. Aside from online options from your website, what about text to give? Or e-transfers? Gen Z (ages 18-22) are large users, many of whom do not have credit cards and have never even seen a cheque.

Look beyond annual giving which keeps the organization running. Plan a budget portfolio of projects/programs that include personnel, materials, marketing, and activities. Then sell this vision. Donors want to make a difference. Show them what they can do. These can be at any price-point.

For instance, an animal welfare organization hosts a mobile spay-neuter clinic that consists of a truck, outfitted for surgery where vets and technicians are able to visit low-income neighborhoods. Each subsidized clinic is $3,000. So donors can name a clinic after their pet and host a clinic in a community they support.

Step 3: Practice Sincere Stewardship

It costs a lot to raise a dollar – therefore it’s key to make donor retention a priority. Deliver happiness and donors will:

  • Renew their support
  • Upgrade their support
  • Refer new donors to support your cause

Stewardship is everything but the Ask. All the relationship building, communications, and activity that take place before and after a gift has been made to build trust:

  • Saying thank you
  • Repeating gratitude
  • Being accountable & transparent
  • Impact reporting
  • Engagement through regular 2-way communication
  • Appreciation events
  • Recognition

It must be authentic. This means developing a program that has a robust, personal and timely way to thank donors for their generosity. Beyond thanks, stewardship needs to show how their gifts make an impact. We need to create insider communications showing the results and outcomes that donors have made possible.

Step 4: Practice Radical Gratitude

How you respond to a donation is even more important than how you ask for one. Not another coffee cup! Surprise your donors with something meaningful to them: Greenpeace gave major donors pieces of the Rainbow Warrior sails one year. A symphony or theatre could offer a music score or script with margin writings. Doubletree Hotels gives everyone checking in a fresh, hot chocolate chip cookie. It evokes a sense of home-away-from-home and comfort. What’s your special something?

Look for ways to deepen engagement with your donors through:

  • Getting creative with thank-you’s
  • Making people feel noticed as individuals
  • Showing that their gift mattered
  • Demonstrating the impact of their gift
  • Sharing a feel-good story
  • And staying in touch throughout the year

Make a plan for every donor and map out your MOVES with touchpoints to keep them engaged. You need 6-7 touchpoints before making another ask. So set out the months of the year in a spreadsheet and map out those touchpoints for each individual.

A truly donor-centric organization switches their collective mindset from donors as funders to donors as partners. It’s about deepening relationships, personal and authentic, to understand what the donor’s aspirations, interest and passions are; and to develop the donor’s trust in what can be achieved together. Only then can you make an offer that matches their vision and excitement for how they can make a difference.

Step 5: Finding Gold in Your Own Data-Base

Major gift donors give mostly because of factors in their own hearts, minds and lives.

Not because your organization is awesome, your programs are superb, your staff the best, and your mission is important. These things matter – but they aren’t reasons why major donors give.

It’s not about persuading donors that your organization is great and the cause is important. It’s about showing donors how your organization and cause are a good channel for their donor-centric needs. It’s beyond stewardship. They are past reactive, point of purchase giving, and they’re motivated by more than just purely emotional response to need. They have embraced your cause and are comfortable with the way you steward their gifts, knowing you will use their money for greatest impact.

Most donors rarely give a large capacity gift as their first gift. They want to ‘try out’ working with the organization to see how they ‘fit’.

It’s not uncommon that most dedicated donors have the capacity to give 7-8x more than they are currently being asked. The key is to:

  • ASK! (a majority of donors say they didn’t give because they weren’t asked)
  • Focus on those already giving generously
  • Look closely at supporters giving larger than average donations
  • Uncover hidden gems with lifetime giving history
  • Look to donors who are continuously upgrading their gifts

These golden nuggets in your data-base are your key prospects. They’re already with you. You do have to ask but you don’t have to sell them on your cause. Donors want to give more than money. They want deep involvement with your cause. Give them a simple invitation to join your story and transform lives in the process.

A Final Word …

You may look at these steps and think: that is a lot of work. However, planning is never wasted. You can’t just “wing it” and hope that you meet your goals. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from COVID, it’s that the same-old doesn’t work. The world has changed. People have changed. We have the opportunity to change and engage donors to meet these challenges. Remember, only YOU and your unique organization can make the difference you want to be in this world (to paraphrase Ghandi).

I wish you health and success in 2021! Happy New Year!

Each of these steps can be a workshop in itself. S. Sutton & Associates Inc. is here to offer strategic consulting to help you in the process. Stay engaged with us throughout the year for our education series, schedule a complimentary consultation, visit our website for more resources, or contact us at [email protected].

Debbie Flinn, MBA, CFRE

Complimentary Consultation