The Fundraising Wall

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Have you ever run a big online fundraiser and found the effort lagging somewhere in the middle? I call this the fundraising wall, much like “bonking” or a runner’s wall in the midst of a marathon.

The fundraising wall is pretty normal in my experience having run or been a part of more than $200 million worth of nonprofit and for-business online fundraisers, most recently with Meyer-Optik’s $683,000 Kickstarter for its Trioplan 50 lens. Almost every single fundraiser lags in the middle, and that’s increased as online fundraisers have become more mature and people — e.g. donors or backers — are no longer fascinated by the novelty of Uncle Joe, a hip start-up, their nonprofit, or their community foundation’s online fundraiser.

Because there are so many fundraisers now, there’s also a great deal of noise, too. These days most fundraisers have a novelty factor of about one to two communications. So when the initial launch euphoria passes, a fundraising wall occurs as companies, individuals and nonprofits try to slog their way through their campaign one email, one social update at a time.

The fundraising wall occurs regardless of the giving event’s length. I’ve had bad hours during almost every giving day, and have seen longer giving events have middle days that make pray you inside that the fundraiser hasn’t stalled out. You experience a great sense of relief when things start moving again.

In the worst case scenario, the fundraiser does stall out. The fundraising wall becomess insurmountable. Invariably, there are reasons. You can look for external ones to blame the failure on, but usually this type of failure comes down to value proposition, strategy and architecture.

Digest the Best Practices, but Don’t Settle for Them

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I first started examining online fundraisers, and giving days back in the 2008-9 timeframe. Peer-to-peer online (or social if you want to be hip) fundraisers were still pretty unorthodox then. Kickstarter for business and personal projects was just getting going in the spring of 2009, and nonprofits were highly skeptical of online donations.

Today, things have changed with how-to resources allocated for fundraisers of all sorts, from the Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Playbook to many books on Amazon.com. Heck, I’ve even contributed to the plethora of resources out there, too, with a few white papers like this Case Foundation giving day report.

Many of these best practices are still useful, in particular with great advice on pre-event communications formats, post-event thank-yous, and crisis communications. But 99% of these resources lack the pragmatic view of someone who has actually run a giving day. They are consultant research-based reports or written to meet an underwriter’s view of best practices, rather than offer the real perspective of hitting the wall.

Walk a mile in my shoes.

You’ll see some missing points.

Following recipes can help you build a perfect textbook online fundraiser that still experiences the Fundraising Wall. That doesn’t mean it won’t be successful, or that you won’t reach your goal. It does mean that you are probably leaving money on the table.

There’s a Day for Everything

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As alluded to earlier, saturation is a huge issue. Go on Twitter most business days of the week, and you will see some nonprofit awareness or giving day trending. Or it might be their week. Or month.

Similarly, on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and a variety of other personal and business fundraising sites, you’ll see new apps, camera equipment, watches, clothing companies, etc. Peer-to-peer backing for art projects happens every day on our social networks.

There’s a day or fundraiser for everything now.

This is the beauty and the curse of online fundraising. The new option to go out and raise your own cash rather than getting a loan or surrendering equity to an angel investor who will surely interfere with your vision is attractive. For nonprofits, there is little choice. Online donations continue to grow year over year while traditional checks and mail donations dwindle.

Consumers — people in our core social networks and communities — are now accustomed to seeing online fundraisers. And they are much quicker to tune them out, especially if you simply deliver a formulaic textbook campaign that offers all the requirements. Even if your fundraiser is super interesting with a compelling topic or item to purchase, you will still experience a lag in these conditions.

Overcoming the wall becomes a central challenge for the capable online fundraiser competing in a crowded market.

Innovate and Entertain

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Just having a fundraiser for a worthy product or cause won’t be enough to carry a campaign end to end. The way to overcome the fundraising wall is through entertaining evolutions in the fundraising narrative.

Interest can be achieved through content, events, surprises, new details, and prizes (that other people care about, not just you). You have to make the fundraiser something worth seeing and experiencing. Whether that’s time-bound tension in attempts to achieve a goal, pop-up events, access to leaders and celebrities, new content featuring customers using your content, or beneficiaries experiencing aid through your cause, find something to make your fundraiser compelling and interesting.

I am working on a small Kickstarter for a photography book project that will launch next week. It features the opening reveal of the project, and of course there will be the close. But I intentionally staged the campaign’s timing to feature a trip that will highlight the book’s raison d’etre in the very middle of the effort.

This will provide a compelling reason to share about the project. Since the subject is of national interest here in the United States, I imagine it will not only be compelling to my closest friends, but people in general. I hope folks are entertained.

Upon return and the fundraiser’s short close, there will be new content and initial takes on the final product. People will get to experience a reasonable preview of their book. Overall, I believe this structure will overcome the fundraising wall.

It’s thinking through the staging of an online fundraiser that can help you overcome what are very normal obstacles. More importantly, you will increase your overall yield.

What do you think?

How to Fundraise During a Giving Day

Last February, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee kicked off The Big Payback 2015, its annual giving day in May ($2.6 million raised), with a training to help nonprofits garner the most impact. More than 400 Nashville-area nonprofits attended the event, which was emceed by giving day guru Spencer Whelan. He keynoted and moderated several panels, all of which offered incredibly useful tips for participating causes seeking to run successful fundraisers.

The conference room was filled with eager nonprofits ready to begin their 2015 campaign. During breaks, they networked, shot promotional videos and took Big Payback social media pics in a photobooth.

This year’s May 5 event will be the second #BigPayback. It is a part of the larger Give Local America initiative hosted by my client Kimbia. Last year’s giving day raised nearly $1.5 million for 525 local organizations. Whelan noted that second year giving days tend to see significant increases in funds raised. With that comes more competition.

Nonprofits that want to successfully compete for top awards in a second year giving day should consider a more thorough campaign. Whelan said that winners in second year giving days often create their own prizes to augment the Community Foundation’s prize pool ($250,000 in prizes last year).

Results always are contingent on the effort a nonprofit puts into the giving event, said Whelan. He encouraged nonprofits to set realistic goals for their giving day. Specifically, they shouldn’t get ridiculous with an overstated goal (think #IceBucketChallenge results), nor should they shoot too low.

Second Year Tips for Success

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A nonprofit’s second year effort is more challenging than the first. Because of the increased intensity of the event and number of nonprofits participating, a nonprofit needs to do more than just turn the proverbial lights on.

With three months until May 5, nonprofits were encouraged to start building their campaigns immediately. “This year is all about cultivating. How will you prime influencers and donors before the #BigPayback?” said Whelan.

Nonprofits should use the time before the giving day to:

  • Build a compelling narrative for the giving day
  • Cultivate matches and prizes to excite their donors
  • Activate board members and volunteers with giving day roles
  • Inform donors that the nonprofit will participate, and get pledges to donate in advance
  • Get influencers on board who can fundraise and share the message
  • Build out communications programs leading up to the day of giving that include advertising, emails,
  • social media updates, visual media assets and more
  • Create post-giving day donor cultivation programs that thank them and show results

“Focus on your efforts that have impact, then engage with donors before the giving day,” said Whelan. “A fairly significant portions of your giving day donors will come from your ‘base’ of supporters who are already committed. Therefore, the giving day itself should be an execution of your pre-seeded efforts, with additional focus on converting new donors. Updates the day of #BigPayback should be celebratory and motivational in nature.”

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has built an extensive toolkit for participating nonprofits. It gives them access to graphics, social media tips, event facts, a planning calendar, a sample press release and email templates.

Storytelling

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Building an emotionally compelling story is a critical part of any giving day campaign. More than anything, a giving day is not about a message to an entire region. It’s a moment to rally a nonprofit’s specific segment within that region, educate people about the cause, and show how it impacts the community.

“Offer a simple story, something that builds on last year’s effort, a continuation,” Whelan said. “Make it a simple plot, and make it open ended. Offer a hero, present the conflict, how donations help. Continue the story after the #BigPayback in your thank yous and, of course, next year.”

Nonprofits should invest in creative storytelling for the highlight stories. A panel featuring Abrasive Media and Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ shared out-of-the-box storytelling methods. The church created a rap parody video that drove significant donations during the 2014 #BigPayback

Spencer Whelan’s keynote speech is available online here. Nonprofits looking for more tips should check out the toolkits provided by their giving day, like the Big Payback’s. A second source is the Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Playbook.

This post ran originally in the Huffington Post.

Is Existing Online a Quest of Loneliness or Giving?

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Do you sense a lack of clear meaning in this online rat race? On one hand, existence stands in its purest form, reasons to be online, missions of the niche! Then we dilute existence with digital records of ice cream trips, Nike Fuel runs, and manufactured savoir faire.

Self determination now exists at its ultimate zenith, coupled with a bizarre sense loneliness.

YouTube star Jenna Marbles reflected recently in a NY Times article that with all of her online fame and popularity and friends, she finds herself in an odd state of loneliness. We have many boys and girls trapped in their own online bubbles now.

Continue reading

Amped to Work on Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington

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Earlier today Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington was announced. This is a giving day for the metropolitan DC region on November 9 that is expected to raise $3 million and encourage well over 10,000 civic actions. The event is organized by Zoetica client Razoo, Community Foundation of the National Capital Region and United Way of the National Capital Area.

As noted on the Inspiring Generosity blog, yours truly has been running point on the project, an effort that has been underway since June. So, given that most of you are working on the inside of a corporation or nonprofit, or are consultants, here’s some of the stuff that makes this particular event really, really exciting to work on:

1) Give to the Max Day bridges the traditional nonprofit community in DC with the booming 2.0 digital start-up world, all to help the city’s vital nonprofits who are under fire from Congressional cuts and economic hardship. This is certainly compelling work.

2) It’s multichannel with a diverse set of marketing approaches, including direct marketing, online marketing, media relations, social media, events and advertising. Really, it’s very nice to bring to bear a fuller suite of tools.

3) The effort seeks to empower nonprofits, not for just one day, but for the long haul with a significant training program so they can become better marketers, who cultivate stronger relationships with donors online.

4) Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington is a part of Digital Capital Week, the one week Internet festival created by Peter Corbett, Jen Consalvo and Frank Gruber.

5) The event represents a significant marketplace challenge. Can an idea that worked well for a state — Give to the Max: Minnesota raised $14 million and $10 million in two similar events for GiveMN — work well for a major metropolitan city? We believe so. Ironically, I worked on the Philanthropy 2.0 report with colleague Beth Kanter, which helped inspire GiveMN. Life comes full circle.

It’s hard not to be thrilled about this effort! Having lived in DC for 20 years, this is a great way to help out the community. If you are a metro DC-based nonprofit or citizen, please join us on November 9.

How Much Give Can You Get?

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Triple Pundit reviewed a study that shows altruism amongst green product purchasers declines rapidly. In the write up, author BC Upham says, “The study suggests people who have spent money on things they perceive to benefit society as a whole may feel they have “done their good deed for the day” and thus are more likely to choose less altruistically when presented with other ethical quandaries.”

The University of Toronto study goes on to say in the new global ethic that the larger world seems to be espousing, people reactively give out of guilt. “This implies that virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviors.” Then the study says, “Because purchasing green products affirms individuals’ values of social responsibility and ethical consciousness, we predict that purchasing green products will establish moral credentials, ironically licensing selfish and morally questionable behavior.”

Ironically, I think the study, while on target with its findings, has missed a critical component of the social change idea market: Cause fatigue. God knows all of us concerned with social change — green or not — certainly feel tons of pressure from many directions to help society. From local homelessness and domestic issues to global poverty and the environmental crisis, there’s an endless amount of nonprofits and social enterprises begging for our attention.

But how much give can the marketplace get? This study assumes that people will become “selfish” after acting green.

I wonder if that’s the case, or if people only have so much give in them, and when they give to any cause, they’ve taken a step towards meeting their quota. So then this study is wrong in that it implies that people need to do justify badness with goodness. Instead, they have fulfilled their capacity to give and have cause fatigue.

There’s definitely a corollary. Consider how much Haiti got, and then in comparison how little aid Chile received, in spite of a much larger earthquake. Yes, there’s a difference in economic wealth between the two countries, but it doesn’t account for this kind of disparity.

Sooner or later, people need to replenish their charitable spirit by taking care of themselves. Families matter, too, and so does personal welfare. You can’t get water from an empty bucket. Nor should people get a brow beating for doing that. Replenishment is a faith agnostic spiritual axiom.

The end message to successful change organizations is congratulations on your effectiveness. Do what you must to keep these people interested in your cause because loyalty and continued attention will be harder and harder to maintain. Effectiveness will continue to evolve, but in my mind, it includes understanding that there’s only so much give you can get.

Geoff Livingston is a regular contributor to the Live Earth blog.