Used with permission. Copyright photo

Used with permission. Copyright photo

An Up-Hill Battle:  What to Do When You’re Behind Your Goal

An Executive Director Asks: What Can We Do if We are Not Going to Make Our Annual Fund Goal?

Recently, a friend of mine who is an Executive Director, asked me what to do. He was concerned that his organization was not going to make their fundraising goals for the year.  “What should we do?” he asked.

First things first. The year is not over yet! I was pretty upset that it’s not even October and this Executive Director had already said “ain’t gonna happen!” Whoa, my friend! As my mama always said:

“Can’t never could!” 

You still have time to re-double your efforts. Pull your team together. This is a moment for him, as Executive Director, to demonstrate leadership. He needs a battle plan. Get all hands on deck. I mean all hands on deck: board members, staff members, volunteers. 

If you have a long way to go to goal, decide what each person can do. Give people specific assignments. Make sure that people have the tools they need to succeed also. If you want board members to send out emails, write the emails for them. Board members can edit them, but it helps them to get going to not have to start from scratch.

Here are a few strategies that have helped me be very successful in year-end giving:

Matching Gifts:  One of my favorite strategies is to recruit a major donor (or 2 or 3) to match gifts. Every one loves to give when their gift will be doubled or tripled. Every time I’ve asked a major donor to make the matching gift offer, I believe the major gift donor has been even more excited than the people who have contributed the gifts that have been matched.  It’s win-win. Most major donors love to see their large gifts leveraged in this way. I think you’ll find that everyone will be more generous. 

Once the matching gift has been secured, proceed with an end of year appeal.  Ask some of your best prospects in person and enlist the board and other staff members to do this also.  Face to face (F2F) solicitation is much more effective than mail, email, or phone solicitation. 

In a twist on the matching gift, you can also run a fundraising challenge. You can work with two (or more) groups of people to challenge one another to see who can raise the most money. Maybe all of your alumni from one class would like to challenge all of the alumni from another class? Or all of the supporters from one city (such as Spartanburg, SC) would like to challenge the people of another city (perhaps Greenville, SC) to see who can raise the most money. A friendly competition complete with some proud prize or some clunker of a prize that the losing team captain must display in his yard for a year(such as a recycled commode–think: Hilly Holbrook’s yard in “The Help”) will make the fundraising even more successful and fun.

It might be challenging if you haven’t made good progress toward your annual fund goals to date, but it’s still possible. Almost half of all fundraising dollars for the year are raised in the 4th quarter of the year. I wouldn’t recommend that you suddenly roll out a bake sale, car wash, or yard sale — things that take enormous amounts of time and energy and have very low returns on investment—but I would advise that you double-down on your end of year appeal strategies:

  • Do write a mail appeal.
  • Do segment your mailing to appropriate sections of your mailing list.
  • Do send out an electronic appeal.  Again:  segment! (Need help:  call me!)

Follow these appeals up with reminders and repeat messages–people need to be asked more than once. Don’t be afraid to ask again and again (when it feels like you’re asking too often, you’re probably asking about the right number of times).

And consider participating in Giving Tuesday.There is so much press around this day that it makes publicizing the event easier for you. You don’t have to tell your supporters about the event. You just have to tell them where to give to your cause.

Every year, Giving Tuesday gets bigger. People want to be a part of it. They want to give somewhere. It’s their way of getting into the spirit and of dealing with their post-Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Cyber Monday gluttony guilt. If not your organization, they’ll give somewhere else. It’s not too late to ramp up for it. See this very helpful guide from the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

For more thoughts on how to finish the year strong, read my earlier post with that exact title “Finish Strong,” and read my 5 Tips for Getting Your Board to Participate in Giving Tuesday which was just reprinted in Giving Tuesday Weekly, a curated publication of best tips on Giving Tuesday strategies by Cause Vox, a Crowd Funding platform.

If you implement your end of the year strategies with gusto, telling a great story and touching your donors’ hearts, it’s not too late. You might just find that your annual fund goal is not as far out of reach as you had thought.



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