Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! It’s that wonderful (and dreaded) time of year: North Texas Giving Day.
(In case you have missed the thousands of
emails, social media posts, texts, and carrier pigeons …
this year’s event will be on 9.19.19)
In 2009, I was privileged to serve as the Vice President of Development for the Center for Nonprofit Management when we supported The Communities Foundation of Texas in launching the first North Texas Giving Day (“NTGD”). Back then, the event was focused on DonorBridge … a site that aimed to educate donors on the impact of their gifts.
NTGD has since grown into one of the largest “single days of giving” in the country. Yet, while NTGD raises significant funds for nonprofits… I believe that it can do so at the cost of long-term financial sustainability for many participating organizations.
This does not have to be the case. It certainly was not the intent of the initiative. However, many of the 2,700+ nonprofits participating in North Texas Giving Day will unfortunately abandon the core principles of long-term donor development and focus on the absolute worst tactics of short-term fundraising:
- Emphasizing gifts over impact;
- Treating donors like ATMs, not people;
- Focusing on one-time gifts over recurring donations (the single best way to raise more money over the long-term);
- Cannibalizing larger, year-end gifts (particularly if those gifts shift from checks to credit card donations);
- Blasting their mailing lists so many times that they hemorrhage donors via “unsubscribes,” resulting in a net loss of the long-term value of their donor base.
The latter is the most pernicious aspect of this day and is why I am writing this blog.
NTGD represents a tremendous opportunity for our sector. The energy and enthusiasm behind this campaign could enlarge the philanthropic pie for the 17,000+ nonprofits that call North Texas their home. However, to do so, nonprofits must integrate their NTGD efforts within their annual fundraising efforts … not rely on this single day as a lottery ticket.
To explore some real-world ways to do this, I interviewed two of the most successful fundraisers I know — Erin Hart, the Director of Development for the Cistercian Prep School; and Michael Thomas, the Executive Director for My Possibilities. Both of these amazing leaders have found a way to leverage NTGD to improve their overall sustainability.
Thanks to their leadership, these two organizations thrive throughout the year and crush it on North Texas Giving Day.
Cistercian Prep School’s Results
I am proud to share that my little alma mater (Go Hawks!) was the #1 NTGD recipient for three years in a row and #2 in 2018. While they benefit from being a “closed constituency” group (where their donors and their clients are the same population), they raise a shocking amount of money for a school with only ~350 current students.
|Online Gift Amount $
|# of Online Gifts
My Possibilities’ Results
In addition to being one of my favorite places to volunteer, MP runs one of the best NTGD campaigns of any “open constituency” nonprofit (where their donor base is not necessarily the same as their client base). Their results speak for themselves:
- Participating for 9 years
- First Year = $16K
- Last Year = $162K ….. a tenfold increase!
- CFT awarded MP a marketing award a few years ago; check out their incredibly creative campaign this year!
Tips on Setting Goals
Both leaders emphasized that their success was connected to defined goals that were integrated within their annual development plan. In both cases, the organizations have strong cultures of philanthropy that focus on cultivating long-term relationships with their donors. While each has a strong focus on giving on NTGD, their campaigns are extensions of their ongoing relationships with donors.
Erin said, “As a school, one of our most important metrics is alumni participation. Our highest rate so far has been 42%. We also aim for 100% participation of our current parents. If you work on participation, the money is going to be there.”
(By comparison, many of the top universities in the country struggle to exceed 15% alumni giving.)
Michael shared that MP has three very defined goals for NTGD. The first is a clear financial target, with the goal to leverage the “overwhelming amount of focus placed on donating in DFW” to raise as much money as possible. Driven by their creative marketing efforts, MP successfully engages its community in an exciting effort to contribute a meaningful portion of the organization’s annual budget.
The additional goals include:
- Engage the HIPsters (the “Hugely Important People” whom MP serves) and the community to “show that we are a working examples of our vision to include people with disabilities.”
- Increase followers through our social media channels, in an effort to build the foundation for even more donors in the future.
Key Strategies for Success
Both organizations focused on two central strategies:
- Integrating NTGD within a culture of philanthropy.
- Engaging key stakeholders in serving as ambassadors for the organization.
Erin shared that Cistercian’s team does “a lot of prep work before the event to ensure that people know about it. We get people involved the summer before and let them organize it. You have to get people connected to you and be passionate about what you are doing; if you don’t have that, NTGD will not solve that.”
Their key strategies include:
- VOLUNTEER LEADERS: Each alumni class has 1-2 class agents who facilitate communication with their fellow alumni. These agents are supported by class captains who oversee ~ 5 years of classes underneath them. These volunteers lead the charge to secure participation in North Texas Giving Day.
- CULTURE OF GIVING: “People feel so blessed to be a part of our community. This is not really about development; I don’t think of myself as going after money, I think of myself as allowing people to be a part of this community in a different way.”
- OWNERSHIP MENTALITY: “We are not a school where five families make it happen. We are a community that everyone takes a part in building. The reason this works is that everyone has to work.”
- PRIORITIZE IT: “We treat the day/event with the respect and focus it deserves. If it raises $100k and only costs $5k, why would you give it less attention than a golf tournament that raises $100k and costs $50k?”
- ASSIGN A LEADER: “Budget expenses specifically for this event and make sure that somebody on staff is ultimately responsible for the day’s performance. If ten people own the event, then nobody owns it.”
A caveat about the advice below: while these strategies did not work for these organizations, they might work for yours. However, given Cistercian and MP’s success, it is worth strongly considering their direct feedback.
If you already have a series of emails queued up, or a major on-site party planned, there is no need to cancel them… just consider how to adjust these efforts in a way that fosters long-term relationships with your donors.
- “The worst strategy is to annoy donors with those ‘NTGD is coming‘ emails. If you want to give, you will give; I am not going to harass you.”
- “Donor fatigue is the worst. You don’t want someone to give to you because they want you to shut up; you want them to give because they want to be involved.”
- Recruiting retail stores to donate a “percent of sales on NTGD is a huge miss. It’s trying to force a square peg (one that doesn’t yield any profit anyway) into a round hole.”
- “Hosting on-site events on Giving Day. Nobody is coming. Don’t do it. “
Other Points to Consider
NTGD puts a bright spotlight on our sector. It gets the community excited. And it gets us excited too, which is a wonderful gift in the midst of a challenging fundraising year for many organizations.
However, to harness that enthusiasm effectively, we need to participate with the same care that we would use for any other fundraising event. Most importantly, we need to consider NTGD to be an amazing tool within an overall donor cultivation campaign.
If done well, NTGD can do far more than bring in gifts on one day; it can support:
- Donor Retention Rate (“What percentage of last year’s donors supported you again this year?”)
- Donor Return Rate (“What percentage of donor’s from prior years returned as donors this year?”)
- New Donor Volume (“How many new donors joined us this year?”)
- Average Gift Amount (ideally broken out by the retained, returned, and new donors)
- Number of Gifts per Year (since a donor who gives you $50 per month is more valuable than a donor who gives you a single gift of $600)
- Open/Click-through/Unsubscribe Rate (e.g. are people opening, reading, and clicking on your emails … or unsubscribing?)
- Social metrics (e.g. are you building your social media following, increasing the number of likes/comments/shares, etc. … and is there crossover between your followers and your donors?)
Whether or not your organization is participating in North Texas Giving Day, focusing on these metrics is the key to successful fundraising every day.