Nonprofit Year-End Fundraising that Respects Depressed Donors

December 14, 2020
5 minutes

One of the things I love most about the fundraisers I work with is the depth of their compassion and care for their donors.

In an era of fundraising personalization and segmentation, many organizations are going to greater lengths to create customized fundraising experiences for donors. This both respects donors’ history with the organization and helps the organization optimize fundraising results. Win-win!

Throughout 2020, I had many fundraisers talk to me about their concerns around their ask. Many told me that they worry about asking because of the financial impact the pandemic has had. (Take a moment to breathe: The Nonprofit Alliance survey shows that donors have more to give.)

But even beyond the financial impact many fundraisers are mindful of, I also heard from fundraisers who are considering the emotional impact 2020 had on people's mental health and what that means for fundraising asks. This includes:

  • The emotional and mental challenges of sheltering in place and limited social interactions
  • Grief stemming from the loss of a loved one from COVID-19
  • A national racial reckoning in the United States, often prompted by instances of police brutality.
  • The rollercoaster of emotions people experienced throughout the US's general election cycle and its aftermath

The emotional and mental health challenges that 2020 left us with cannot be understated.

The challenge this presents for year-end fundraising is to avoid presenting an argument for giving along the lines of, “We’ve all had a hard year, but the people our organization helps have had it harder.” This kind of message discounts what donors may have personally experienced this year and can come across as disrespectful.

Of course, we don’t want to (and can’t) assume to know how someone experienced 2020. But, we can be mindful of how we position our fundraising asks and what it might imply that your nonprofit thinks (or doesn't think) about donors' experiences.

What I want to underscore here about making mindful asks is that you're still asking. That's right! Fundraising happens because we ask donors to donate. In order for your organization to have the kind of impact you want to have beyond 2020, you need to keep donors engaged and the donations coming in. Consider this your permission slip to ask.

Ask Action Items

As you finalize your asks for December, here are a few things to consider that can make your fundraising asks feel ethical for tough times like 2020 and on-brand for your nonprofit.

  • Within your ask, are there sentences that make a statement about the year that include a “but…” statement? Review what comes after “but” in that sentence and make sure it feels broadly respectful for donors.
  • Consider directly acknowledging the hardship of 2020. It could be something like, “We know that 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, which is why we are especially grateful to everyone who has made a donation this year.”
  • Is the overall tone of your fundraising ask what you truly intend? For instance, could it read as tone-deaf Pollyanna? Does it sound rock-bottom hopeless? Go for a non-judgemental, open-arms, long-distance hug vibe.
  • Among all the "Do's", there's at least one "Don't": Don't make people feel guilty if they can't/won't/don't donate to your nonprofit. This is a moment to uplift and comfort, not to judge.

In addition to sending out fundraising asks that feel appropriate and respectful for 2020, your nonprofit may want to consider sending out a cultivation or stewardship communication in December that can more deeply acknowledge the year and what your nonprofit’s community is facing. And really, this is the most powerful thing we can extend to donors during this time—empathy and a we’re-in-this-year-together promise to continue the work.

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