I know you’ve just started slipping into those cozy fall sweaters, drinking your first pumpkin spice lattes of the season, but I’m here to sound the alarm: HOLIDAY FUNDRAISING SEASON IS COMING.
This time of year always moves quickly, and between COVID-related madness and election season, the next couple of months will disappear before you know it. So I want you to take this time today to figure out the answer to that stressful question:
Should we plan an end-of-year fundraising campaign?
As your friendly neighborhood fundraising consultant, my answer to you would typically be YES; but there are plenty of reasons that many groups do not fundraise at that time of the year, even without the stressors of our pandemic and politics thrown in. While a fundraising campaign must be done at some point in your year, let’s go through some pros and cons around whether now is that time.
- The most important point to consider is that many of your donors expect to be asked for money at this time of year. They plan their giving around the holiday season, so if you don’t ask now, you could be leaving money on the table.
- An end-of-year campaign can be a great anchor in your year, rallying your supporters and building some funds to hold you through the quieter winter months. If your fiscal year is drawing to a close, it’s one last opportunity to grab donors; and if you’re in the middle of your fiscal, raising money now will give you a sense of what your spring plans must be. Either way, it is a point in your season that you can plan around, just like a performance or workshop.
- You can make a lot out of a little. Because people are used to giving now, and they likely are coming off the energy of the fall, AND there are social pressures of the season to give, your messaging can be more impactful, and you can wrangle more of your artists and Board members to amplify that message.
- Sure, everyone expects to be asked this time of year, but that means that EVERYONE is asking. It can be easy to get drowned out in all of the noise, particularly when it’s already impossible to get folks to open emails or to beat the Facebook algorithm. Don’t even get me started on Giving Tuesday! Saving your campaign for a time of year when people aren’t inundated with messaging might give you a better chance of being heard.
- To manage a successful campaign, you have to plan ahead and really sink some resources into the work. For a small organization, this might mean pulling your time away from, you know, those actual artistic programs that are at the core of your mission. Finding a time of year between artistic projects could be a better use of your time if you are running an organization that is short on resources.
- The holidays are stressful to begin with, but this year is a doozy. Between pandemic shutdowns, the real need of so many in our country who are out of work (including so many of you!), a long-time-coming uprising around racism in our country, and, oh yeah, trying to get Trump out of office, you are absolutely justified in deciding that this is not the time for you to be running a fundraising campaign.
I’m sure you have many other reasons why you may or may not want to run a campaign, so I’d encourage you to take a second right now to make your own list.
Seriously, go do it. I’ll wait.
What did you decide?
Is this just not the time? Great! Focus on other things that feed you artistically and build up your community. But put a big note in your calendar on January 1, 2021, to think about when you will do a campaign, ideally in the first half of the year.
Did you decide that you’re ready to jump in? Fantastic! Let’s talk about what you need to be doing right now to make this a success.
Keys to planning a strong end-of-year campaign
You should start NOW with your planning. The biggest stressor when it comes to fundraising is when we try to raise money without proper planning, team-building, or goal-setting. Right now- yes, NOW – you should begin planning, including:
- Setting a goal: what have your campaigns raised in the past? What does your current donor pool give? You’re not going to find a bunch of new donors – especially this year – but if you were able to activate everyone who gave to you in the past, where would that get you?
- Set your theme: This doesn’t have to be anything super fancy, but do figure out what the story is that you’re telling in the coming weeks. This will help you tailor your messaging to fit this arc.
- Create a publications calendar: What avenues will you use for your campaign? Ideally, you’ll have a few different communications channels, so that any donor that misses you on one channel sees you on another. I’d suggest your e-blasts, social media, personal outreach by staff and board, and, yes, hard mailing. You can focus the mailing on your best prospects, but getting a letter does a great job of reminding someone to give! Once you’ve set your channels, begin planning when things will go out, and what the focus of each post, email, or letter will be.
- Assemble your lists: Take all of your past donor lists, merge them, and de-duplicate. This is annoying, but what you want is a clean spreadsheet that you can merge into letters and emails, with each donors’ last gift and the date of that gift.
If you want to see what we think the elements of a strong individual campaign are, check out our one-pager, Guidelines to Simple Individual Fundraising Campaign. You can also get a more thorough breakdown of campaign planning via our Simple Guide to Individual Fundraising in the Arts.
As you’re planning, remember to get the whole team involved. This means board, artists, staff, friends, etc. If they are mobilized to share posts, run a Facebook campaign of their own, and advocate for you, it will take some of the work of generating gifts off your back. They can even help say thank you with appreciation calls to everyone who donates! This acknowledgement is so important, and donors don’t forget it when an artist or Board member takes the time to call them in thanks.
My last suggestion for this particular year is to consider the November 3 election in your timing. Four years ago, fundraising was very challenging for many arts organizations after the election, as so many of us and our donors mobilized for social justice. What will you do if this happens again? While I’m very supportive of trying a campaign, this may be enough of a reason for you to decide to wait until the new year.
And as always, if you want to talk through your plans with someone, reach out! We’re always ready to help.