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Joan Garry’s Recipe for Year-End Giving

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Published September 28, 2022 Reading Time: 6 minutes

This article is guest written by Joan Garry. Joan Garry is an internationally recognized champion for the nonprofit sector and the founder of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab. She is called upon by large organizations to tackle substantial change management, crisis management, and leadership transitions requiring a compassionate truth-teller, a hands-on strategy advisor, a communication expert, and a focus on strong internal and external messaging.

Giving Tuesday is in eight weeks—three months until year-end. That means in the next three months, 35% of all your fundraising will happen, and as your organization’s lead fundraiser, you’re the quarterback.

Are your team and setup ready for Giving Tuesday? Which of these options sound like you (and your team):

  1. My board is unresponsive.
  2. My board says no one told them they had to fundraise.
  3. My board chair took the job because the executive director let them off the hook to fundraise.
  4. My data should be in better shape than it is.
  5. My executive director told me they don’t like working with major donors.
  6. My team still has three open positions.
  7. My team is excited, I’m excited, and we’re already well into the work of year-end fundraising.

So how did you do? Did you pick #7?

If you didn’t pick #7, consider this question: What could I do differently?

Sure, you have all the answers about what everyone else should do and the resources you need but don’t have. But remember, you’re the quarterback.  

So maybe let’s try a new approach.

And I’ve got one that’ll make all the difference:

  • It’s a seven-step plan
  • It’s specific but not prescriptive
  • It’s intended to get your team in the game with enthusiasm

What Is Not Required to Get the Job Done?

The good news is that you don’t need a big budget and a big staff to be successful. Organizations of every size in every sector have the same challenges and can tackle them.

For instance, I coach CEOs of large nonprofits who have these challenges. Typically, the work becomes staff driven. They say, “I need more people in my department to hit my goals.”

But smaller nonprofit organizations I work with in my Nonprofit Leadership Lab also have the same concerns. Many of these organizations have a small staff or no staff, but with the same kind of boards big organizations have. So no matter the organization’s size, following this recipe in the last three months of the year helps them see real success.

The Year-End Sprint Recipe

1. The Invitation Business

It’s time to commit to a “zero-nagging” policy. That means reframing fundraising from asking for money to inviting people to know and do more because your team is in the invitation business. You want folks to “come a little bit closer.” Go ahead and hum a few bars—maybe it’s the year-end theme song.

2. The Elevator Pitch

OK, I’m on your board and like the invitation framing, but it needs to work at answering the question: what am I inviting folks to attend? You want to be clear and compelling—for instance, include a good two-minute elevator pitch and a current story.

Reread this one because it’s 100% something we all could do better. Working with the board and volunteers (and the staff!) to help them practice their elevator pitches and fueling them with short and powerful and current stories is crucial.

3. The Squad

Look for your most enthusiastic board members and staff. Ideally, you’ll find this squad of ambassadors on your development committee, but it doesn’t matter where you find them. They don’t have to be the people who’ve given the most or secured the most gifts. In other words, ask the folks who are crazy in love with your organization to be your ambassadors.

4. The Invitation List

Do the best you can with the data you have. But here’s what I’d look for to provide the team:

  • A list of lapsed donors—your most valuable list. This includes the last gift date, amount, email, and phone number.
  • A list of all current donors at a threshold you set. This includes the last gift date, amount, email, and phone number, highlighting folks who could give more.
  • A list of folks who should hear from your organization on Giving Tuesday. This includes your organization’s MVPs, such as staff, your most enthusiastic volunteers, a donor who gives a little, but you know it’s a big gift for them, or anyone else you really want to show love.

5. The Experience

I could’ve made this number one because it’s that important. Tell stories and include a brief elevator pitch about your love for the organization. And while there are lots of storytelling resources, I’m partial to this one—it has a downloadable handout you’ll find very useful.

6. The Squad Meeting

Now, it’s time to bring the group together and start to build the year-end stewardship program. You have the tools. Simply match three to five folks to each board member, lead volunteers, and key staff. Still have leftover names? You will, and that’s OK. Besides, the Executive Director will take a bunch too, which should help. The important thing to remember is that if stewardship and this kind of approach are new to you, consider it a pilot to change the mindset of your team—it’ll pay dividends next year! 

7. The Full Team Huddle

Lastly, create an agenda for the full team huddle. Ideally, this should be an early October board meeting where you and the squad can share the plan and the tools. If there isn’t a meeting, your board chair will need to call one. And your squad members, who should be excited about this plan, can make some calls to help folks learn how and get excited to do more.

Whatever you do, please, please, please don’t call this meeting a “Year-End Fundraising: What We Need From You”—it’s a little too on the nose.

Your Opening Monologue at the Full Team Meeting

You have to nail this, and you have to be humble. So as a little bit of a bonus, here’s what I might say if I ran the meeting:

Greetings and welcome! 

Yes, it’s that time of year: the last quarter. And since 35% of all nonprofit fundraising happens in these next three months, we can’t squander a single day of it. 

While reflecting on my role in engaging you in development work (not including the transactional business of closing gifts), I’ve realized that there’s still so much untapped opportunity. Asking you to give us names and sell tickets—it’s transactional and the wrong approach. And I apologize if you’ve felt put off by that approach.

Today, let’s start with a new mindset. Yes, our goal is to raise X amount between now and year-end. But let’s do it as champions, ambassadors, storytellers, and stewards.

Let’s do it as folks who see themselves as part of something meaningful, a movement to change X.  And when you’re excited about our work, it’s our hope that you’ll want to invite people to join you, to learn more, to do more.

Thanks to the work of the <Squad>, we’re launching an organizational stewardship program as part of our full-court press. X will hand out a page to each of you (also sent electronically) of a portfolio of five folks connected to the organization in some way.

Your job? X points of contact between now and year-end to bring your person a little bit closer to the work. Tell a story, send a photo, or do both. And yes, on Giving Tuesday, we ask you to give them something, like a call of appreciation.

Our job? To give you every tool you need to accomplish your goal. Give you a new story each week—some in writing, some in video, and some in social media posts—to help you do some bragging (awareness) about our organization as a leader.

You’ll see lists that make it really clear why stewardship is necessary. But you won’t see a ton of information, nor will you need it. You’re building a relationship and bringing your folks closer to the work. So share your excitement about the work and the sense of purpose you feel in being part of an organization helping to make the world fairer, juster, more inclusive, and more beautiful (select the ones that are relevant).

Will we ask for money and closing gifts in the next three months? You bet. Might you help us do that? We hope so. But equally important, will this process bring folks closer to the organization, create a connection that’ll lead to a new gift, an upgraded gift, or a bigger gift next year? Absolutely, without question.

Please Give This Year-End Recipe a Go

It’s not too late to get started. Because before you know it, you’ll blink, and it’ll be September again. And trust me, you don’t want to miss months and months of having your board and volunteer leaders practice their storytelling and engage with donors and prospects.

Take the time right now to reframe the work for your board. Turn them into ambassadors and storytellers who are in the invitation business. Then, create a terrific invitation list, keep adding to it, and arm your ambassadors with the ability to share their enthusiasm and tell a current compelling story about the work.

And then ask them to end with the two most powerful words in development: Join me.

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