This week, I had a chance to catch up with my former colleague Wendy Marinaccio Husman who is an Account Director at the Mal Warwick Donordigital agency which has offices in Berkeley, Calif. and Washington, DC. Wendy is one of the smartest digital strategists that I know, so it was a treat to be able to check in with her, starting with her reflections on year-end digital fundraising in 2018.
Question: What are your general reflections on year-end digital fundraising 2018?
Year-end digital fundraising was a bit confounding throughout and ultimately a bit disappointing, especially for larger organizations with more robust digital fundraising programs. We’re still analyzing results, but I can already share that this is first year in my 11 years of specifically digital fundraising experience that December returns have been widely down.
Question: We’ve seen continued increase in the number of email appeal efforts sent during year-end. Has that trend continued, increased, or decreased this year?
The trend increased significantly this year overall in the November-December timeframe, especially around Giving Tuesday. The trend of needing to be more aggressive to bring in less direct revenue from email also held this year. Email appeals in the final week of the year (and especially on December 31) were already quite aggressive, with many organizations sending two or three emails on December 31 in 2016 and 2017—I’m not certain that increased this year.
Question: How important was monthly giving this year? We’ve seen a lot of growth in previous years. Has that trend continued?
Monthly giving promotion throughout 2017 and 2018 has proven to be critical, as the volatility in digital donors’ behavior over the last year was tempered by ongoing donations from sustainers. As email and web giving spiked up and down in unexpected ways, sustaining donations—many of them secured in the wake of the 2016 election—were often the reasons organizations hit their monthly digital revenue goals throughout 2018. The trend has continued as organizations have become more comfortable with promoting monthly giving at the expense of initially larger one-time gifts; more nonprofits now understand the data proving that monthly donors have a higher lifetime value.
At year-end, organizations can always anticipate organically bringing new monthly donors on board. Many people simply choose a monthly gift rather than a one-time gift, especially when organizations have worked on optimizing their donation form and are offering a special match or goal—but even without that, December typically results in the largest annual spike in monthly giving. If your organization did not experience that trend, I’d recommend taking a hard look at your program to determine why donors aren’t motivated to choose monthly giving.
Question: What digital fundraising techniques can you highlight with the clients at your agency this year? I’m thinking of techniques such as the use of thermometers, countdown clocks, etc.
I believe that an organization’s mission and work, its ability to tell its story and let donors know they are valued partners in that story, is more essential than any technique. At the same time, elements like a match and special Giving Tuesday campaign go a long way toward year-end fundraising success.
This year, we recommended introducing the mobile channel for fundraising and stewardship, incorporating peer-to-peer texting for many of our clients. Strategies differed, but top-level, we worked with organizations to match up donors and prospects with mobile number and send text messages to them throughout Q4 with awareness-building and engagement messaging, stewardship messaging, and later ramping into fundraising asks. In terms of timing, these were often tied to a mail in-home date, Giving Tuesday campaign or Year End match announcement.
We also introduced a couple of new tools that helped make our clients’ year-end campaigns even shinier—one is called NiftyImages, and it allowed us to build countdown clocks and other dynamic content more easily than in past years.
Another technique for organizations to consider is what we call an “un-designed” email. Once in a while, sending a message that looks more like a receipt or invoice will help boost deliverability to the inbox and open rates. It lands in the inbox more often because it can bypass ESP’s bulk email controls—but it shouldn’t be overused. You may want to try it as part of a renewal campaign or a triggered campaign to lapsing donors.
Question: Do you think that changes in tax regulations relating to charitable deductions had any impact on online giving this year?
It’s very hard to tell! Anecdotally, questions and comments have come in from donors expressing general confusion. I think many people assumed that if the tax law had an impact, it would primarily be on the behavior of mid-level and major donors—as these are the ones who are more likely to actually experience major differences in the way they handle their 2018 tax returns. Many donors giving $50 or $100 on December 31 wouldn’t have itemized their taxes anyway, so the changes to the tax law shouldn’t have impacted their giving. But perhaps the greater awareness that the tax-deductibility of their gift wouldn’t benefit them on their tax returns did change their behavior. On top of that, because of the way the tax law was rolled out, regular people are not really noticing the benefits of the tax deduction—they’re just getting slightly less taken out per paycheck. Personally, my guess is the volatility in the market and political landscape at the end of the year put a damper on people’s giving spirit, and this had more of an impact than the tax law—but at this point I think it’s anyone’s guess.
Question: How have you integrated testing into year-end digital fundraising for your clients this year?
For most clients, we don’t recommend testing during year end—we test consistently throughout the year leading into October, aiming to utilize all the best results in the year-end campaign. Sometimes we’ll do a test or two in the very early stages of a year-end campaign to hone in on something that will benefit the entire campaign, like what the language on the call-to-action button should be in our campaign emails.
However, for some small clients, year-end is the only time of year they can achieve a statistically significant response, so we do incorporate some testing into their campaigns. That said, no matter what time of year it is, we conduct ongoing testing in social media and digital advertising campaigns.
Question: How much investment have you recommended that your clients make in social media and search engine advertising to complement other digital efforts?
This year-end, more clients than ever devoted budget to a social media spend, search/display spend, or both. This was one area where we’ve seen consistent year-over-year improvements in revenue and ROI.
Question: MWD has unique expertise and success with multi-channel fundraising for its clients. What can you highlight from multi-channel integration at year-end in 2018?
We’ll know more once we complete our multi-channel analysis of our clients’ year-end campaigns. In part, we do this by matching back unsourced web gifts to the campaign touches constituents received in other channels, identifying the role mail, phones, text/mobile, and email played in motivating people to give. (Unfortunately people don’t give on our beautiful source-coded links as often as we would like them to for attribution purposes…and with efforts like digital advertising, it’s difficult or impossible to attribute individual motivation!)
When fundraising is more difficult, going back to the fundamentals is even more important. That’s why I am confident that the numbers will show that integrated fundraising continued to be critical to organizations’ success during year-end 2018. Once the numbers are in, additional trends I’ll be looking for include: the lift provided by adding peer-to-peer texting as a channel, and the impact of social media and display advertising budgets on new donor acquisition.
Wendy Marinaccio Husman is an Account Director with Mal Warwick Donordigital. A fundraiser for over 17 years, her favorite topics are digital fundraising, monthly giving and data. Her MWD clients have included Mercy For Animals, Corporate Accountability and Project HOPE, among many other organizations doing fantastic progressive organizing. Wendy has an undergraduate degree in Science, Technology and Society from Stanford University and a Master’s in Performance Studies from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Prior to her work with MWD, she worked as Membership Director for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and Development Director for Alonzo King LINES Ballet. She is currently a proud member of AFP-Minneapolis and has served as VP of Membership for AFP-Golden Gate.
December is a uniquely important time for organizations to engage with their members, donors, and volunteers and to raise money for programs in the coming year. Some nonprofits raise a quarter (or more) of their annual revenue in December. Your fundraising team will be hard at work crafting the most effective fundraising campaign to inspire your supporters to make year-end donations. There’s also a lot of demands on your supporters and donors, who will likely receive fundraising appeals from numerous charitable causes that they’re connected to.
If you’re ready to roll into December fundraising, use this checklist to make sure that you haven’t missed or overlooked any key elements that will boost your campaign’s success. This article focuses on last minute ideas that you can use to enhance your campaign, reach more supporters, and supercharge your fundraising.
Resend to Non-Openers on the Last Three Days of the Year
So much of year-end fundraising is about simple persistence, especially when you’re competing against many other good causes. For email appeals, that means resending emails to people who haven’t yet opened your messages. Wait a day or two, pull a report of who opened the message the first time, and suppress them from your resend. Yes, there is always a risk of over-messaging, so be sure to change the subject line.
You might also pick a different time to send, such as very early in the morning, in the late evening, or on the weekend, all in the name of standing out to get noticed—and opened.
Add a Special Appeal for Monthly Giving
Year-end is traditionally the time for one-time gifts, but we know that donors are always in search of flexibility and options. Make sure you make the case for monthly giving, either in the body text or P.S. of your email message, and also on all your donation pages. This is one of the fastest growing segments of online fundraising, so jump on the bandwagon at year-end too. While monthly giving will reduce revenue in the short term, monthly donors will stay on your list longer, and have higher lifetime value as a donor.
Consider all the ways you can promote monthly giving during year- end, such as sending a special appeal to your recent donors, frequent givers, and multichannel donors (such as those who have already made a gift in the mail).
Another technique is to message your current monthly donors and ask them to increase their monthly giving amount or make a special one-time gift. Be sure to acknowledge them as current monthly donors and note their current giving level, so they’ll be informed about their giving level as they consider their giving options.
Message Your Giving Tuesday Donors with Another Appeal
For nonprofits that did a fundraising campaign during Giving Tuesday, consider reaching out to these donors and asking for a special year-end gift. This is a great time to use a special challenge match from a community partnership or business sponsorship to help empower this effort.
Keep Sending Appeals to People Who Have Already Donated
We go to great lengths to avoid sending appeals to people who have already donated to our campaigns. But year-end is a great time to keep including recent donors, especially if you have a dollar-for- dollar match. Include a sentence recognizing and appreciating their gift, and many donors will be motivated to give again, or to spread the word via social media with friends, family and co-workers.
Ask Your Donors to Tell Their Friends and Family
Donors feel great after they make a donation to a cause that they care about. That’s what charitable giving is all about. Make it easy for your donors to share that feeling with friends and family by adding sharing options on your website “Thank You” page and also in the thank-you email/receipt that gets sent to each donor.
Add a Last-Minute Challenge Match
Your supporters, volunteers and donors love challenge matches because it’s a chance to have their gift go further. Seek out a challenge match from a local business or generous donor to encourage your supporters to make a last-minute gift. Focusing on a specific group of donors or coordinating with an event can also be useful strategies.
Add a Pop-Up Lightbox to the Highest Trafficked Pages on Your Website
Most nonprofit websites get a burst of visitor activity during the last two weeks of the year as supporters and donors check in with your organization. This is a good time to update your website with new content that aligns with your year-end messaging. This content might include a new featured article on your home page. If a donor receives a piece of postal mail from you and then visits your website, they should experience a smooth and coherent message through both channels.
Consider using a pop-up lightbox during your year-end fundraising campaign. Lightboxes are graphics that appear after a few seconds of visiting a website. They’re a surefire way to grab the eye of your website visitors and call attention to your year-end fundraising campaign. You can configure lightboxes to only show up in certain places, such as your most viewed pages and set them to show up only once per visit so that they don’t irritate your visitors. Consider creating a series of three or four lightboxes that can communicate urgency as you approach the Dec 31 year-end deadline.
Increase Your Messaging out on Social Media
You’re probably planning some social media messaging at year-end to promote your fundraising efforts, but you’re probably not planning enough. Recruit a social media volunteer team to create and share engaging content. Get creative with ways to promote your year-end campaigns, using graphics, thermometers, and thanking donors publicly (with their permission). If you’re using a video to promote your year-end fundraising campaign, be sure to use it frequently on your social media channels and ask your followers and fans to share the video. Don’t forget to track your social media click-through traffic to your donation pages.
Reach Out to Your Supporters with Text Messaging
If you’re collecting mobile phone numbers from your supporters, donors and volunteers, consider using text messaging to share out your fundraising appeals, inspiring graphics, videos and links to your donation page. Work with a text messaging vendor to help get this set up and be sure to set up tracking on the donation page you’re using to measure impact.
It’s been 10 years since the Great Recession of 2008. Since then, times have generally been good. But because of the new U.S. tax law that went into effect earlier this year, we’re expecting lean times again in the nonprofit sector.
It’s a good time to look back at fundraising guru Mal Warwick’s advice from his 2009 book. It’s titled Fundraising When Money Is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide to Surviving Tough Times and Thriving in the Future.
Donations Will Probably Decrease This Year
In our May blog post Charitable Giving Expected to Plunge: How Nonprofits Can Survive, we described why charitable donations will likely decrease this year. Long story short: the new tax law drastically reduces the number of people who will take deductions for charitable gifts, so donations could decrease for your nonprofit this year. Indeed, there are already signs of a giving plunge: the Nonprofit Times reports that charitable giving declined for the first three months of 2018 compared with last year.
The effect on nonprofits might not be a lot different than what happened in the Great Recession. Mal Warwick, the founder of the Mal Warwick Donordigital agency, wrote his book to address the giving plunge 10 years ago. Warwick’s book is about maximizing your nonprofit’s income in the short term and building a foundation for the long term.
Evaluation, Budget Cutting, and Not Wasting Time
One of his first recommendations to nonprofits is to do a hard budget and program evaluation. If you need to make budget cuts, should you cut fundraising, marketing, and communication activities? Or should you cut program activities? There’s not a single answer.
Warwick suggests “reassessing the whole ball of wax,” with special attention to why your donors give. He suggests nonprofits strengthen their case for giving, adjust their fundraising plan, and get going on their asks. Hard times are not the time for much experimentation and innovation.
Nine Practical Steps
Warwick’s last chapter of the book, called “Nine Practical Steps Toward Peace of Mind,” is a call to calmly fundraise in hard times. We’ve already mentioned his first two steps: quickly reassessing your whole organization, and strengthening your case for giving. Here are his other steps.
Stick with What Works
Different isn’t always better. An economic downturn does not justify throwing out what has worked in the past. Using proven fundraising techniques as well as cautious cost cutting is the ticket.
Cut Costs with a Scalpel, Not an Ax
Don’t go for easy ways to cut fundraising costs like cutting out telemarketing efforts or slashing the direct mail budget. You can never stop building your donor database. Your programs depend on an effective fundraising operation.
Fish Where the Big Fish Are
Remember the Pareto principle, or 80/20 rule. It teaches us that a relatively small number of more generous donors account for the lion’s share of the net philanthropic revenue our organizations receive. Keep cultivating your medium-sized and large donors.
Be Attentive to Your Donors
All donors need to feel appreciated. They need to feel informed, and their confidence in your work needs to be constantly reinforced. At no time can a nonprofit operate as though its donors will continue giving no matter how they’re treated.
Do Due Diligence
Gather personal information about potential donors before approaching them for gifts. Avoid generic “Dear Friend” or “Dear Donor” appeals. Get good information in your donor database.
Here are some key data points. Know (or find out) how much each donor has given, and how frequently, and how long they’ve been giving. Especially know what sort of appeal triggered their initial gifts. Was it a letter, a phone call, an email, a visit to your website, or a conversation with a friend?
Step Up Your Efforts Online
Your digital channels have multiple benefits for nonprofit fundraisers, most of them having nothing to do directly with money. Here are three important ones: attracting younger supporters, providing constituents with opportunities for participation in your work, and reinforcing appeals sent through other channels.
Break Down the Silos
Make sure that execs, fundraisers, and content people are checking in regularly and are on the same page. An integrated program of fundraising, marketing, and communications will boost revenue, even under the worst external conditions.
Mal Warwick’s Fundraising When Money Is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide to Surviving Tough Times and Thriving in the Future is still in print and available from Wiley or from major booksellers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Additional Resources: Fundraising for Nonprofits
- Learn about eight fundraising trends that are happening in 2018.
- Get some more hints on how to raise more money for your nonprofit.
This article was co-written by Michael Stein and Jim Lynch and was originally published in the TechSoup Blog on July 18, 2018.
The new U.S. tax overhaul officially called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act went into effect in early 2018. We don’t know with certainty what the effect of the new law will be on charitable donations, but the projections for charitable giving don’t look good.
It is wise and prudent for U.S. nonprofits and faith-based organizations to prepare for a lean year with regard to individual donations. In this blog post, we discuss these upcoming changes and offer some practical suggestions on how your charity can prepare for a difficult year ahead.
Why Charitable Giving Will Likely Decrease This Year
According to the nonprofit Tax Policy Center, the new tax law will decrease by more than half the number of households that will make itemized deductions for charitable gifts. The Tax Policy Center’s estimate is for a reduction from 37 million to about 16 million people who will itemize this year. That’s a major reduction that will have direct impacts on nonprofits nationwide.
In 2016, Americans donated $390 billion to charities, with 72 percent of the total coming from individual donors. The rest of charitable giving came from foundations, bequests, and corporate grants. Of the $280 billion coming from individual donors, 82 percent came from people who itemized taxes. An estimated 21 million of those people won’t be taking their charitable tax deduction this year.
What will be the result? The Tax Policy Center forecasts a reduction in charitable giving somewhere between $12 billion and $20 billion. The new law will reduce the federal income tax subsidy for charitable giving by one-third. Most nonprofits should expect fewer donations to come in this year. Major gifts from the 10 percent of people who will continue to itemize will be even more critical to your fundraising.
OK. So, what should charities do about this?
Double Down on Digital Fundraising
According to the latest M+R Benchmarks Study, digital fundraising has had steady growth year over year in both revenue and donor acquisition. Now is an opportune time for charities to consider how to maximize the return on investment from these efforts.
Your charity may want to consider staffing up in critical areas of fundraising. Staffing up would be especially helpful in higher revenue opportunities. These options include growing mid-level giving programs, using wealth screening services to identify donation opportunities, investing in a higher performing donor management platform, and piloting ways to move donors up the ladder of engagement. Many of these options may require different staffing configurations or partnerships with agencies that can help charities achieve these goals.
Do Additional Practical Things to Prepare Your Organization
- Create a contingency plan to reduce expenses in the case of a revenue shortfall based on quarterly projections and actual results. Examples include reducing general overhead, or reducing costs not related to fundraising.
- Survey your existing donors and non-donors to determine their propensity to donate given changes in the new tax law.
- Focus your organization’s fundraising efforts on diversifying giving options. These might include expanding choices for giving. Here are some examples:
- Sustainer giving, in which donors contribute through automatic deductions on a monthly or quarterly basis
- Workplace matching, in which companies match employee donations
- “In honor of” sponsorship opportunities such as naming rights for special programs
- Legacy giving, in which supporters put your organization in their will or living trust
- Mid-level giving programs with membership benefits such as coupons and discount codes, printed calendars, t-shirts, and other branded items. These are donation opportunities above small donations and below major giving
- Make sure to continue strong engagement with your existing donors, especially your small donors, because many will already not be itemizers and therefore will be a strong base for your fundraising revenue.
- In the run-up to tax season in 2019, deploy messaging to educate donors about the value of giving in light of tax changes. Craft messaging about the broader range of giving options. It’s important to anticipate the potential mind-set of a donor who is concerned about tax impacts by focusing them on the value of their donation as an investment in long-term change. Remind them how much you value their support and the impact they continue to make to advance your mission.
- Improve the sophistication of your giving operation. Add more personalization and customization to the fundraising request, with the goal of increasing the propensity to give and increasing giving levels. This approach requires better use of existing donor giving data, such as previous contribution trends, which can be integrated into emails and donation pages.
Educate Your Major Donors
Another area of opportunity to mitigate the loss of many previously itemized tax filers is to offer practical suggestions to donors on alternative giving methods. For example, donors can set up a charitable remainder trust or a charitable gift annuity. These methods would give donors the option to make ongoing gifts with any remaining funds going to the charity upon their death.
Another option for donors older than 70.5 is to do a direct rollover from an Individual Retirement Account (up to $100,000 per taxpayer) to a qualified charity. Both of these options are usually the terrain of planned giving programs, and they may require charities to broaden their expertise in these areas and in marketing efforts.
A Permanent Change to Charitable Giving
We sincerely hope that these suggestions are helpful to you. We believe that regardless of how big the giving plunge will be for your organization this year, adopting at least some of our suggestions will be sound fundraising practices. The effects of the new tax law may not happen as quickly as the Tax Policy Center forecasts, but the new law is, in effect, a permanent change to U.S. charitable giving. If it doesn’t hit hard this year, it might next year or the year after that.
Additional Resources: Nonprofit Fundraising
- Get 6 Tips to Select the Right Online Fundraising Platform.
- Watch our free webinar on Digital Fundraising Tools and Trends for 2018.
- Check out How Nonprofits Can Raise More Money: 6 Trends to Watch.