As we enter the last few months of 2020, it’s time for not-for-profit organizations to implement and activate their year-end fundraising strategies. Many challenges come with this task every year, but with the changes and obstacles our communities have experienced this particular year, annual giving will, in turn, look a little different for organizations and their donors.
In this article, we’ll talk about year-end fundraising strategies from two perspectives: 1) accounting and governance; and 2) one of Sikich’s outstanding clients, The Art League, who will offer best practices for fellow not-for-profit organizations based on recent successes.
Take a close look at your budget and cash flow projections
The first step when planning for year-end fundraising is to look at your budget and cash flow projections, paying close attention to where shortfalls are occurring. In a normal year, we might recommend you begin the financial process in mid-October to be ready for a November 1 or 15 activation date for your campaign. This year, however, we recommend that you determine the dollar amount you’d like to raise by early October, if not sooner. Many not-for-profit organizations have had to reallocate their budgets due to the need for COVID-19 resources or digital programs, and most likely have more money to raise in order to meet their fundraising goals. In short, the earlier you begin looking at your financials, the earlier you’ll be able to figure out where your shortfalls are and finalize an appeal goal based on them.
Let’s say you’d like to raise $50,000 to meet your fundraising goal for the year. If you normally activate your campaign December 1, that means you have one month to meet your organization’s goal. If you activate your giving campaign on November 1 or 15, you’ll have much more time to get to the $50,000. On top of this, you might be strategically ahead of other organizations who may have decided to stick with their original go-to-market date.
Incorporating sustainability contributions
Some organizations are adding a sustainability component to their annual campaigns in an effort to replace reserves that may have been tapped during this unprecedented time; for example, recurring monthly gifts and other “planned” giving options. If your organization is considering this, make sure the accounting treatment aligns with your fundraising request. In some, if not most cases, the specific request for sustainability contributions will be considered a donation with donor restrictions and must be accounted for accordingly. This means the amounts will be reflected in the Statement of Activities as donations with donor restrictions and released when the satisfaction of the restriction occurs. Assuming the funds raised during the sustainability appeal are not spent in the current fiscal year, the net assets with donor restrictions will increase. This, in turn, should result in surplus cash, which can be invested for future unexpected needs or added to the organization’s “rainy-day fund.”
Overall, the main consideration for your annual campaign should be to fill projected contribution or revenue shortfalls the organization experienced this year. A review of your actual results to a year-end projection should give you a good indication of an overall goal for the campaign, and adding a sustainability component might be an additional option.
The Art League’s Year-End Strategies & Successes
One of our outstanding not-for-profit clients, The Art League, has worked over the years to refine both their fiscal year and calendar year-end giving campaigns. In this section, The Art League’s Charlene Haskell, Development Officer, offers these fundamental takeaways based on recent fundraising successes and planning to help you close out the year strong.
Embrace the importance of phone calls
Don’t assume donors don’t want to pick up the phone and talk to you. Right now, people are overwhelmed with emails and are likely experiencing “screen fatigue,” so it may be refreshing to step away and talk to someone on the phone instead of instant messaging or video chatting. Personal contact during this time is more important than ever. This is true, not only as standard best practices for not-for-profit organizations accepting donations from our valued donors, but we must embrace phone calls and take the time to show them how important they are to us and our mission in helping us to keep our organization running. Not only does it make our donors feel appreciated, but it also helps them to feel like they are still connected to your community. It always has the added bonus of the opportunity for us get to know them and to evaluate whether they are in a position to give at a higher level or more frequently.
Don’t be tone-deaf
Try not to change the overall philosophy of your annual fund (experienced and longtime donors count on annual charitable giving in their yearly financial strategies), but at the same time, don’t be tone-deaf to everything that has changed this year. These days, people want to see that our organizations are normal, consistent and operating as best as they can, even though it might seem like everything else around them is full of unprecedented uncertainty. For example, the emphasis in our donor correspondence and appeal letters even before the pandemic emphasized that it’s “you” (our participants, students, members, and donors) who help us keep our doors open and keep our 120+ faculty artists employed. We tried to convey, “We know everything feels like a sinking boat, but we’re not really sinking because you’re helping us. We’ll stay connected to you as you stay connected to us.” Our goal in these letters was to stay positive and make the messaging about the audience and how their donations directly help us do more impactful and relevant activities in the community.