Ask the consultants: GG+A team responds to your crisis fundraising queries, concerns

Throughout the current crisis, GG+A’s team has been responding to the concerns and questions of our nonprofit partners in an effort to offer guidance as you move forward through this tumultuous time.

In March, we launched our Fundraising in a Public Health Crisis series and have since brought you dozens of webinars and thought leadership pieces. As questions have come in from our philanthropic partners, we’ve promised to answer each one.

Below are some of those questions and the GG+A team’s responses. Read on for further insight from our deep bench of consultants.

Q. What expanded role does online giving have in this environment? How do you leverage online channels up the giving ladder to major gift donors?

Adrian Salmon: Online giving has a vital role in this environment–as a fulfilment mechanism for offline channels, as well as a standalone solicitation channel in its own right. Research in the direct mail sector has shown that, while response rates to direct mail are still at least 10 times those to email, up to 50% of gifts triggered by mail are now being fulfilled online.

A key online metric that many institutions do not measure is donation page conversion rate – i.e. the percentage of visitors to a donation page who complete the donation process. This is uniformly low across the nonprofit sector at around 16%. In other words, fewer than 1 in 6 visitors to an online donation page complete the process of making a donation. Optimizing donation pages for conversion is one of the most urgent, and often neglected tasks, in improving online giving performance. Adding the ability to take gifts via frictionless methods, such as PayPal and Apple/Android Pay, will have a significant impact.

Retention of online donors is also low, benchmarked at 39% overall, and 22% for new donors recruited online. This suggests that fundraisers should be designing specific donor journeys for those recruited online. Fundraisers should also be trying to encourage online donors to give through additional channels; multi-channel donors typically have double the retention of those who give solely through a single channel.

Finally, institutions should not be shy of asking for relatively large online gifts, and monthly gifts. There is a body of evidence now to show that anchoring relatively large amounts as default asks online does not decrease online revenue. And donors are marginally more likely to make monthly gifts online than via other channels.

Q. What are your thoughts on non-alumni parent major giving at this time? Should my colleagues and I continue in engaging new parent prospects, say freshman parents, even while the students are home taking classes online?

Jim McKey: We believe following best practices, even in this environment, continues to be important. To deepen engagement, you need to communicate with new parents to find out how they are feeling. Some may have questions and concerns. Others may be grateful to connect and share their desire to be more involved. You do not know until you communicate. As with your communications with donors at this time, your posture is one of care. We also recommend you follow your procedures for analyzing and assigning new parent prospective donors in the incoming class.

Q. How are you thinking about the fundraising messaging mix in an environment where the organization is largely communicating emergency health information?

Melinda Church: Successful fundraising messaging always includes a mix of empathy, need, aspiration, and urgency. A crisis is no exception, though it likely changes the “volume” on each of these elements, particularly during a health emergency. As we enter into May, many nonprofits might consider the truly emergent “crisis messaging” to be behind them. The objective now is to pivot to fundraising messaging that is at the heart of your mission in the context of ongoing challenges related to the pandemic and its economic fallout. For many colleges and universities, for example, the surest fundraising messaging pivot might well be to need-based financial aid for students.

Q. How do you think COVID-19 will affect current major gift discussions with major donors?

Pete Lasher: We should not shy away from current gift discussions, but we do need to meet donors where they are. They will guide us. Some prospective donors will ask to put a pause on gift discussions, but many who are still committed may make a smaller gift or seek to extend their payment schedules. In doing so, we will often learn a lot about the prospective donors’ motivations, decision-making, even insights into their financial assets.

Q. Do you think some major donors may shift their giving to COVID-19 efforts instead of to a specific organization?

Pete Lasher: Some donors–particularly institutional donors–may redirect their giving, but donors often will stay true to their own specific interests. The key for any organization is to show how their needs are just as urgent and substantive. As one of my colleagues says, these times are causing institutions to return to their mission and prioritizing what philanthropic objectives are essential to advancing it.

Q. I’m with a nonprofit in California, an adoption and foster care agency. We have an annual event in the spring, and now we are going to have a non-event. Any advice about how to approach our donors for the essential service that we are supplying while being thoughtful about their circumstances?

Jason Shough: The most important thing is to be genuine. Acknowledge the facts on the ground: this is an incredibly tenuous time for all of us and everyone is facing a different set of circumstances. Remember that before you can win support for your cause, you have to show donors you understand theirs. Your supporters have a lot on their minds, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have time for you. It just means they need to know you’re in this together, fighting the same fight.

Q. How do you feel this crisis will affect prospect research over time? What can that department do to best help the gift officers through these times?

Pat Watson: We anticipate there will be some challenges for prospect research post-COVID-19 in the following ways:

  • Verifying wealth due to the volatility in the financial markets
  • Lack of typical activity, like events, galas, or university activity, that often surface information about prospects and donors
  • Radical changes to traditional industry sectors will force prospect researchers to incorporate inputs not previously included in research profiles
  • Geographic distribution of COVID-19 could impact employment, both positively and negatively
  • Emerging technology businesses that are not easy to value, therefore, not easy to incorporate into a prospect profile
  • Changed metrics due to revised goals and objectives could require a change to prospect assignment and measurement
  • Criteria that is typically used to move prospects from giving program to giving program, or from stage to stage, may need to be modified

Prospect researchers can support gift officers by monitoring all of the sources that are used to inform prospect profiles, especially at the major and principal gift levels, and communicate changes about prospects to gift officers who manage them.

Prospect researchers who have a specialized area, such as science and technology, could provide gift officers and their managers insight about changes to industry, emerging discoveries, and people on the move. This information could be incorporated into prospect strategies, engagement programming, and prospect assignments.

Prospect researchers are integral to the advancement enterprise. A close partnership with fundraisers and fundraising managers will result in up-to-date strategy development and new opportunities–both face-to-face and virtual.

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