Fundraising Tools: Raising Major Gifts in a Post-COVID World
4 Tech Truths to Raise More Money
A silver lining to the pandemic (and there aren’t many) is that we have a new tool in our fundraising toolbelt: virtual solicitation.
Nearly all major gifts pre-pandemic were solicited face-to-face and in-person. That’s no longer the case. Many successful, five, six, and seven figure gifts have been solicited virtually over the last two years.
As a result of COVID-19, donors and volunteers of all ages are now accustomed to using Zoom and other video chat technology. We now have a proven model for conducting meetings and soliciting gifts virtually. We’ve learned that virtual solicitation is effective and efficient.
While you may wish for a “return to normal” or pre-pandemic times, you can now solicit donors in several different states, all in the same day, without ever leaving the comfort of your desk chair.
In the past, you might have waited months for a donor to return from their winter home to schedule a meeting. Or, you may have spent a great deal of time and money on a trip to Florida to see a handful of donors. That’s no longer necessary.
Don’t get me wrong. In-person solicitation is still the gold standard of asking for gifts. But, if you are waiting for a return to a time when you can ask every donor for their gift in person, you’re missing valuable opportunities to raise money from your largest donors.
Familiar Examples of Modern Business Models
Fundraisers and nonprofit leaders must catch up with the times. Professionals in all areas of life are changing the way they serve clients and meet the needs of their communities. Some familiar examples include:
A decade ago, you needed to meet with an accountant to do your taxes. Now, TurboTax enables you file your own taxes online and get the virtual support you need.
In-person solicitation is still the gold standard of asking for gifts. But, if you are waiting for a return to a time when you can ask every donor for their gift in person, you’re missing valuable opportunities to raise money from your largest donors.
With the touch of a button, LegalZoom offers help with business formation, estates and trusts, and intellectual property issues. And lawyers are standing by virtually to answer your questions.
In the past, if you had a medical issue, you’d call your doctor. Now, you start with Dr. Google or WebMD to help identify symptoms and possible diagnosis. Have a rash? No problem. The World Wide Web has you covered. Nowadays, you can even meet with your doctor virtually (thanks again, COVID).
A Nonprofit Example
The Capital Campaign Toolkit was modeled after the industry giants above, based on the belief that nonprofit leaders can conduct a successful campaign without the support of on-site campaign consultants of olden days. Instead, the Toolkit leverages technology by combining online campaign materials with virtual assistance from campaign experts.
TIP: If you’re truly serious about raising major gifts, there’s no better way than a capital campaign.
4 Simple Tech Truths to Raise More Money
To raise the most money in a post-COVID world, keep the following four “tech truths” in the forefront of your mind.
1. Virtual Solicitation Works
In the recession and financial crash of 2008, some nonprofit organizations learned a hard lesson. They cut back on their fundraising programs, reduced how and when they asked for gifts, and of course, they raised less money.
However, the organizations that continued to support and invest in fundraising raised more money. Seems obvious. Eliminating fundraising staff and programs results in less fundraising revenue. No big surprise there.
Fast-forward to when the pandemic struck in 2020. Staff and boards found themselves in a similar predicament. Once again, believing it was a “bad time” to raise money, many stopped asking for gifts. Others ramped up their fundraising efforts to cover their newfound needs. It’s no surprise which organizations ended up raising more money.
I spent the majority of 2020 encouraging and even imploring board members, executive directors and development directors to keep asking. I insisted it was a good time to ask, and that they could do so using Zoom, Facetime, Google Meet, or other video technology. Those that did transition to meeting donors online found tremendous success.
If you’ve resisted meeting with donors and soliciting gifts virtually, you are behind the times and missing out on what’s becoming an irrefutable tech truth in the nonprofit sector. Soliciting gifts virtually works!
2. Video Technology Rests in the Palm of Your Hand
We’re living in a video-based world. Look no further than YouTube and TikTok if you need evidence. For most everyday uses, there’s no need to pay top dollar for a highly produced video. Remarkably effective free technology allows you to record video, edit, overlay music, add text and more.
Use basic apps on your phone to take videos, provide virtual tours and to share stories and updates with supporters. If a donor can’t come visit your site, take them on a virtual tour. You can do this in real time or pre-recorded. While recorded videos capture the images and spirit of your subject, real time gives your donors a chance to ask questions along the way.
Also use apps like ThankView and Gratavid, to help send thank you videos. Keeping in touch with donors, sharing updates and stories via video is a modern way to keep donors engaged and up to date.
3. Scheduling Apps Save Time, and Lots of It
Last year I started using Calendly to schedule meetings. I was hesitant at first because I thought it might mess up my calendar or be impersonal with potential clients. But connecting my calendars and setting my schedules required minimal effort and skill. And once I took the leap, I never looked back. There was no more back-and-forth about scheduling. Using Calendly saves me dozens or possibly even a hundred hours per year.
As for being impersonal, I have much more time to interact in meaningful ways with clients rather than spending time going back-and-forth about dates. If you haven’t started to use scheduling apps yet, try them—they may change your life. Scheduling and even rescheduling meetings with donors will become virtually effortless, assuming they want to take a meeting.
4. Virtual Meetings are Efficient and Effective
Recently, I heard a development director say that her board retreat had been rescheduled three times in the last year because the board chair wanted to hold it in-person. I was speechless. Waiting for things to “return to normal” is no longer wise. It’s time to move on.
COVID-19 has provided us an opportunity to learn new skills. One of those skills is how to conduct efficient and effective online meetings. Whether you’re meeting with an individual or a group, there are plenty of best practices available.
- Start with a decent camera and microphone (so you can be seen and heard without any tech follies).
- Next, make sure your background is quiet and clean.
- Add a lamp to brighten up a dark space.
As with any important meeting, plan your agenda in advance. Whether you’re meeting with a single person or a group, it’s important to engage them. What questions will you ask? What is the goal of the meeting?
Do your best to ensure everyone participates and has a chance to participate several times throughout the meeting. Call on people by name to invite their input to increase the chances they are paying attention and not simply distracted by email.
Keep presentations to a minimum and focus on discussion instead. If you need to share something on your screen, put it up for a few minutes and then un-share, so participants can see one another again.
During the pandemic, I’ve run and attended hundreds of virtual meetings. The commute from my kitchen to my home office takes mere seconds and of course, there’s no traffic and no parking headaches.
Whether meetings are in person or virtual, the best meetings make every participant feel included and involved. Do that well, and the format doesn’t much matter. Don’t wait to meet with donors and committees. Take advantage of technology to hold effective and efficient meetings right now.
Every year, I add at least one new technology, app, or service to my work life. The goal is to save time and money, and often, the new technology helps me do just that.
Raising major gifts is about consistency, follow up and follow through. Technology—particularly those basic post-COVID tech truths covered above—can help you in all those areas. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to get on board the tech train and reap its many rewards.
Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, is CEO and Co-Founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online support system for nonprofit leaders to run successful campaigns. As a veteran fundraising consultant, Amy has over 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. She’s best known for her work as a bestselling author, frequent keynote and breakout speaker, and board retreat facilitator.