Fundraising In Tough Times: How To Beat Your Mike Tyson

Challenger Evander Holyfield (R) knocks down WBA heavyweight champion Mike Tyson during the 6th round of their title fight November 9, 1996 in Las Vegas. Holyfield won the championship with an 11th round TKO. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn PP05060142  GMH/CMC Reuters / Picture supplied by Action Images *** Local Caption *** RBBORH1996110900001.jpg

(REUTERS/Gary Hershorn) 

You’ve been hit. Oil prices keep falling. What is it, $27 or lower today? The Dow Jones doubles one day and then slides down triple digits the next. You realize your corporate funding will shrink, and your donors will cringe at their investments and cut their donations in half this year.

Sometimes fundraising is like boxing.

Left hook: competition among non-profits for limited corporate resources keeps growing. And they might have a stronger case than you do.

Jab-jab: you’re understaffed – have paperwork, calls and meetings with donors.
You’re pulled in different directions – every program fights for survival – they all need you to raise funds for them, and only them!

What do you do? Get up and fundraise. Fight!

You’ve got to beat your Mike Tyson! Evan Holyender, a four-time world heavy weight champion who fought Tyson in 1996, noted in his interview, that throughout his life, he heard again and again, “you can’t beat Tyson.”

Well, Holyender actually managed to do just that. “If you notice in that fight, I am the one who engaged, I made it happen because if you give any sign that you’re caving into him or take a step back, he gets stronger, so I realized I wasn’t going to do that.”

Holyender didn’t cave in to challenges. He learned all he could about his opponent; he assessed and measured Tyson’s best moves. Most importantly, he engaged, probed new punches, led the fight, and won.

And you can too.

Here are the Top 10 focus areas that can help you win:

1. Energize Your Most Important Stakeholders to Create a Nimble Fundraising Roadmap: Get your Board, staff, partners and volunteers together to develop a comprehensive fundraising strategy. My opinion is that it shouldn’t be a rigid, super conservative scenario, but rather a nimble roadmap for the next 3-5 years.

Granted, there will be changes along the way, but unless there is a strategic pathway, sporadic efforts won’t bring maximal success. Inspire honest dialogue among your most important stakeholders with the aim of carving out sensible, realistic and accountable goals for your fundraising efforts. Everyone should own their fundraising role, and be accountable for concrete follow up steps.

2. Proudly Hold Your Banner: Come up with a Compelling Case Statement for Your Non-Profit: Develop a compelling case statement, a document highlighting the top reasons why donors should support your organization. This has to be a document that magnetizes your supporters and donors. If you have one already, perhaps it’s a good time to take a fresh look and see whether you need to update it.

To create your best case statement, learn from Making the Case, an all-time fundraising classic by Jerold Panas.

3. Observe, Measure, Modify, Apply: If you don’t evaluate your past year’s fundraising performance, figuring out ROI and measuring the value of your efforts, you might as well try to play Powerball – same chances of winning!

Go back to your outreach results and figure out the cost, the amount raised, and time invested in each effort. Was it worth it? Should you change something? Did you learn from your mistakes? Who can help you this time?

4. Mine Deep to Find Your Gold: Are you doing enough to identify new prospects? How closely do you look at donor segmentation? Did you identify specific actions to reach out to each donor segment? How about starting with the ones who gave your non-profit $100 or more for the past two years? Even though these individuals graciously supported your organization, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have other causes. You need to remind them of the importance of your mission. What about your own network? Do you leverage your business network to find true gems?

5. Zoom in on Your Best Bets: Major Donors and Foundations
According to GivingUSA’s 2015 report, in 2014, individuals accounted for the largest source of charitable giving at 72% of total giving! Foundations followed next at 15%, while bequests (8%), and corporations (5%) ended the list.

Moreover, the report stated that 98.4% of high net worth households give to charity. Most high net worth donors cite “giving back to the community” as a chief motivation for giving.

What does this tell us? We must direct our efforts to focus on major donors and foundations. These are the areas that may provide the best ROI even in times of crisis! Instead, what are we doing? Are we still trying to get corporations on board?

The main concern, especially from smaller non-profits, is lack of staff and experience in approaching major donors. It’s time to engage your best supporters – volunteers and Board members. These people should be able to open doors for you.

6. Don’t Hide in Your Digital Box: Call, Meet, Listen, Repeat: Remember – you’ve got to engage your donors. Yes, it’s so easy to send 100 emails and put a check mark in your plan.

But the world hasn’t changed much. Before Artificial Intelligence takes over your fundraising duties, learn to use ancient tools of human communication – meet your donors face to face, and build personal relationships. No fancy app can replace the human touch. So far.

Building relationships doesn’t mean finding the right moment to ask for funding. Rather, it should be a genuine path to learning more about your donors, and organically evolve into specific areas of interest.

7. Love Your Donors: A Timely Thank-You Goes a Long Way: In good times, did you thank your donors enough? Probably not. Well, in hard times, you have to double your efforts. Send your donors handwritten notes. Randomly call your donor list on set dates. Go and meet them in their offices and homes. Share your experience, and ask for advice.

If you haven’t yet established the habit of writing thank-you notes, perhaps you can learn from Jimmy Fallon? The NY Post has a nice story on him and the newly rediscovered art of thank-you cards!

8. When In Doubt, Innovate: Don’t Let Crisis Dictate Your Course:While you want to follow a balanced fundraising approach, you can’t neglect innovative approaches and dismiss risk-takers. What if there’s a fantastic idea that can bring new supporters to your non-profit, boost your mission and entice donors to give more? Shouldn’t you try it when it’s rough out there?

We all can learn from successful U.S. Navy commander Michael Abrashoff, the captain in charge of USS Benhold, a guided missile destroyer, who in 3 years transformed the low performing ship into one of the highest performing ships in the U.S. Navy. Here’s what he wrote about innovation in his bestselling book It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy:

Organizations should reward risk-takers, even if they fall short once in a while. Let them know that promotions and glory go to innovators and pioneers, not to stand-patters who fear controversy and avoid trying to improve anything. To me, that’s the key to keeping an organization young, vital, growing, and successful. Stasis is death to any organization. Evolve or die: It’s the law of life. Rules that made sense when they were written may well be obsolete. Make them extinct, too.

9. Spearhead Your Direct Mail Outreach: Direct mail can deliver. According to Rebecca Gregory Segovia, EVP at Pursuant, for many non-profits “the direct mail channel often delivers between 60 and 80 percent of total revenue. The email channel provides between 5 and 15 percent. On average, direct mail response rates stand at 10 to 30 times that of email, and even higher when compared to online display.”

What does your direct mail data show you? Do you regularly track results? Do you personalize your appeals? Even though it’s only January – it’s time to think of your annual appeal letter. Start with evaluating your past letters – see what worked and what didn’t. Try not to repeat the same mistakes.

I really liked how fundraising experts from Bloomerang, a software company that provides donor management solutions to non-profits, identified questions you need to answer in your appeal, for both new and current donors:

New Donors:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you want?
  • Why should I trust you?
  • Why do you matter?
  • How do you relate to me?
  • What’s the rush?

Current Donors:

  • Who did you do with my prior gift?
  • Are you grateful?
  • What do you want now?
  • Do you have proof?
  • Again: Who are you?
  • What’s the rush?

Source: Bloomerang

And here’s a nice infographic for an annual appeal letter from Bloomerang: Of course, you can use these focused questions for all your donor appeals.

10. Online Fundraising: Surf and Fundraising

If you think that online fundraising isn’t a big deal, then you need a reality check. According to Network for Good’s research, which covers $233 million in online giving to 45,000 nonprofits, there was a 23% increase in online donations from 2013 to 2014.

Moreover, for a popular digital fundraising outreach, like GivingTuesday, the data show that mobile giving hiked up tremendously. Based on Blackbaud data, 17% of contributors who donated for GivingTuesday on December 1, 2015, did so on a mobile device, which is 13% higher than in 2014!

Most importantly, Network for Good report stated: “Online donors expect a connection—not simply a transaction—with the organization they support. The level of connection to an organization that a donor experiences online is directly tied to their likelihood of giving, giving more—and giving more often. Even small upgrades to the donor experience make a measurable difference in online giving.”

Here are two great resources for you to learn about various online fundraising tools:

Joseph Hogue, an investment analyst and crowdfunding expert, provided a fabulous ultimate list of crowdfunding and fundraising websites that you should explore today.

NonProfitTechForGood also came up with a list of 9 fundraising tools that your organization may consider using. Check SnapDonate or PromiseOrPay apps are a terrific way to energize your mobile and online fundraising. While some apps may have disappeared due to tight competition, others are still out there for your use.

Conclusion: Keep on Learning and Develop a Granite Chin

When you look back at this year in December, after you’ve put all these approaches and fundraising tools into practice, you’ll surely give a sigh of relief. Congratulations – you delivered even in bad times! Yet, if you stop there, you’ll lose your fight in 2017. So as the IBF super middleweight world champion Carl Froch advises, develop a granite chin.

“If you’ve got a granite chin, like I have, you’re immovable. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, or how hard you train, if you aren’t tough enough, you won’t win. It’s the reason a lot of fighters who have success at the Olympics can’t replicate it when they go pro – they just aren’t tough enough.”

Now go out there and win! Good luck with your fundraising this year!


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