When you’re raising money for your nonprofit organization, how important is to set deadlines?
That depends. Who are the deadlines for: you, or your donors?
Nobody Gives to the Man on the Moon
Let’s say you’re planning a fundraising campaign and you have internal deadlines to meet. You need to raise $25,000 by a certain date or your Board will have tough decisions to make about this year’s budget.
Will your donors care about your deadline?
Your deadline might matter to a few of your most loyal, most well-informed donors. Maybe. To all the rest, the organization’s timeline and budget are as impersonal and far from their concerns as the man on the moon.
Because those items have nothing to do with the reasons why they give.
When Donors Decide to Give
You give to other organizations besides the one you work for, right? Think of the reasons why you give before you ask others to give. According to Carrie Saracini of Network for Good, those reasons might include:
- You believe in the mission. “I know there is a need for the nonprofit’s mission in my community and I know it does good work.”
- You trust the organization. “I believe the nonprofit will use my gift to stabilize or expand programming.”
- You get to see the impact of your gift. “The nonprofit communicates about the impact of giving by sharing program outcomes.”
- The organization has a personal connection to your cause. “I know someone who benefited from the nonprofit’s work.”
- You want to be part of something. “I want to be associated with the organization and its brand.” (meaning what it stands for, not its logo!)
- The organization has caught your attention. “I see the organization online and on social media.”
- You benefit. “I want the tax deduction.”
Let me ask you: Do any of these reasons sound like you, when you decide to make a gift? I’ll bet they do. Perhaps more than one rings a bell.
But notice: not a single one of the reasons that people give has to do with the nonprofit’s internal deadlines!
Pick Deadlines that Mean Something to Donors
Here’s the worst possible way to use calendar dates in your fundraising appeal, “We need to to balance our budget by the end of our fiscal year.”
- Because “we” meaning the nonprofit puts the donor on the outside.
- Because “we need” takes no account of the donor’s needs.
- Because “fiscal year” is as impersonal and off-putting as a tax bill.
Here are some better ways to use deadlines to motivate donors.
When there’s an urgent need.“For example, if a fire devastates a neighborhood, the residents need food, shelter, and first aid immediately,” Allison Gauss of Classy points out.
During a meaningful season. Many Muslims give during Ramadan, Jews during the High Holy Days, and Christians around Christmas. Knowing people’s holidays can help you catch them in the right mood (and know when not to interrupt!)
When the donation will fund a specific, time-limited program. Scholarships for summer camp have deadlines built in, and you use that to urge donors to give NOW.
When the Donor Sets the Deadline
For the best way to use a deadline, you have to know more about the donor personally.
Back when I worked at the local anti-poverty agency, every year like clockwork we’d receive a gift from a man whose late wife had worked with our agency. It was important to him to keep her memory alive at a place that had meant a lot to her.
That donor (and sometimes, his friends and families who also sent donations in her memory) got a personal note from the Executive Director. Every year. And the anniversary of her death became a time to reminisce about her. Every year.
It’s not only memorial gifts that are tied to the calendar. Gifts in honor of someone’s wedding, anniversary, birthday, graduation…all these have specific dates. For some cultures, Valentine’s Day is a good time to honor people they love; for others, it’s Mother’s Day.
With a little prompting, your donor may use the happy occasion to become a fundraiser herself. You’ve seen all those birthday appeals on Facebook, right? And usually, those donations are not limited to a specific program of yours. They’re unrestricted funds, which means that every dollar goes further.
If you know the time of year that matters to your donor, you can ask them to give, and to ask others to join them in giving, exactly when they want to be generous, themselves. They may even thank you for the opportunity!
Just make sure it’s their deadline. Not yours.