Digital Fundraising is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Delaney Sterling AUTHOR: Delaney Sterling
Jun 23, 2023
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By the end of the calendar and fiscal years, fundraisers are crunching numbers to determine when they’ll close the gap between dollars raised and what’s left to reach their goals. These are critical moments in any season—but that doesn’t mean they need to be a scramble.

I’ve been in your shoes, fellow fundraisers. I spent three years working in annual giving at Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and now help CI’s clients market smarter. Here are a few strategies that can make those big donation pushes easier.

SHOW IMPACT YEAR-ROUND

Sprinkle impact messages throughout the year to keep your organization top of mind. When it comes time for a larger donation push, you’ll have already shown your value and inched prospective donors closer to making gifts.

  • Promote your brand. Go beyond program-specific campaigns and add institutional campaigns to your digital strategy. These long-term, evergreen ads will give prospective donors a deeper sense of who you are and why you deserve their support, so it will take less convincing when you send them an appeal.
  • Celebrate your wins. Tell audiences about your programs and achievements as they’re happening in real-time. Round up the highlights in email newsletters or blog posts, and give prospective donors a reason to get excited about your work. Celebrity Series of Boston took a “by the numbers” approach with this easily scannable email discussing the coming season.
  • Don’t force a donation ask. Not every message must include a donation CTA (nor should it!). Check out the Goodman’s informational email “Celebrating the Good in Goodman,” which highlighted positive press without the added pressure to buy tickets or make a gift.

ENGAGE YOUR EVANGELISTS

The digital landscape is noisy. Cut through the void by empowering your greatest advocates—like board members and volunteers—to amplify your message with peer-to-peer fundraising.

Peer-to-peer fundraising makes a gift more personal and gives new acquisition donors a touchpoint to your organization. The key is to arm supporters with quick facts about your accomplishments and goals for the coming year and photos from your productions and community programs that they can share with their followers (sized for social media, of course).

  • Use native Facebook features. When I was at the Goodman, we asked the young professionals board to engage their networks via Facebook fundraisers on Giving Tuesday. We provided instructions on creating a Facebook fundraiser and a media kit to help them personalize language beyond Facebook’s canned copy. By mobilizing key supporters, we grew our Giving Tuesday revenue year over year.
  • Create a branded fundraising page. For Giving Dance Day, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater encouraged audiences to build peer-to-peer fundraisers through a dedicated page on their website. They made it easy for passionate fans to promote their mission while still maintaining control over the look and feel of the campaigns, and ultimately surpassed their fundraising goal.

KEEP THE SPARK ALIVE

Turn one-time gifts into recurring donations by sending timely and relevant communications throughout the year that express your gratitude and remind donors why they made a gift in the first place.

  • Keep it personal. The automatic tax acknowledgment email we send from our CRMs is incredibly convenient, but it’s not exactly personal. In fact, the most common reason donors do not renew their gifts to cultural institutions is a lack of meaningful thanks. Send a personalized thank you that shows what someone’s gift helped support, or go above and beyond by offering free, exclusive events like backstage tours or rehearsal viewings to show your appreciation. Need some inspiration? Seattle Shakespeare shows their gratitude by giving their donors a peek behind the curtain through these thank-you events.
  • Share fresh content. Give donors a first look at exciting articles and videos, or document a work in progress to bring them along for the ride. Not sure where to start? Coordinate with your marketing team; they may know of things in the pipeline that aren’t yet on your radar.
  • Play up your mission. IMPACTS Experience found that mission-driven members are more likely to renew their memberships and make additional donations than benefits-driven members. Strengthen that connection by routinely spotlighting your community impact and thanking donors for moving your mission forward.

THE FINAL WORD

Fundraising is a marathon, not a sprint. With a few adjustments to your digital strategy, you can skip the number-crunching frenzy and instead cultivate and steward donors throughout the year. Now get out there and tackle your season fundraising goals!