Change needs Resources – Lessons from Campaign Organizing

Building requires investment

Strong communities require investment (Vancouver Law Courts, BC)

Creating strong communities requires investment. When I finished graduate school, I had an understanding of community development and of social issues, but I didn’t know very much about how to mobilize resources in order to create community change. To change that, for the past year and a half I’ve worked in the non profit sector helping to create safe, healthy and inclusive communities. Coming from a social policy and planning background, I wanted to learn more about how community investment actually happens. In 2012, our campaign team raised over $600,000 for local communities, and in 2013, we’ve raised nearly half a million dollars.

Below, a few basic lessons I’ve learnt over the past 18 months about developing campaigns.

1) Keep exceptional records. Record keeping matters because you need to know your audience and your data. Though I started out as a reluctant learner, I’ve discovered that Excel is my friend, and that the more you know about your donors the better. Whether it’s knowing why donors choose to give or not, or the length of time they’ve been giving, or how their giving amounts increase and decrease over time, all of these things (and much more!) are important to know.

2)  Tailor communications to match donors at different levels. Your high value, leadership donors may want to hear different messages from donors who are just starting out. They may respond to different incentives. Think about what motivates your particular donor group(s) (or desired donor group) and what they care about. Raising funds has to do a lot with storytelling. Tell a genuine story about a problem that needs solving, that has a clear call to action and addresses issues that matter to your donor base. Ensure that you have regular meaningful reminders, but that you aren’t overloading potential donors with too much messaging.

3) In person programming matters. You can’t run a campaign on online/email messaging alone. People often choose to give/become part of a campaign because of a connection they have to a cause in their own lives, the conversations they have in person, and the people they meet at your events. Donor breakfasts and other recognition events matter.

4) Have a plan for the campaign season. It should have peaks that build up over time. Have a communication strategy for your different communication channels that can act as your guide through campaign season. Stories resonate with audiences and are remembered more than specific facts and numbers. (though the hard data is still important).

5) Make sure to follow up. Even when someone has been giving to a cause for a long time, they may forget to give one particular year. Or an email may get lost in their inbox. Or they may mistakenly think they’ve given already. It’s important to follow up – (phone is best) with your high value donors that give regularly. To help organize this follow up, you may want to decide to only follow up with donors who give above a certain level, or have been giving for a certain number of years.

6) Aim to grow your donor base. Can people be cultivated from one level to another? The relationship donors have with the campaign you’re running is not static, and needs cultivation and care. A high value donor is the equivalent of many more smaller gifts and should be your ultimate goal. If someone is giving $100/yr now, have a goal of growing their contributions over time. There may be specific incentives that may help with this process, such as invitation to a certain event, a gift matching program or a draw for prizes..

7) Relationships and emotional connection to a campaign matter.  In a climate of increasingly online giving, it’s easy to forget about the individual ask. The most successful asks are often 1-1 to people that you know. Help people become comfortable in asking people in their own network to get involved. Be focused on your ask. Your most likely audience are people who are connected to your issue for a particular reason.

8) You need to know the specificity of your context. Recognition celebrations matter, but you need to know what works for your donor group. Some people want to be thanked extensively, some people don’t like to be thanked at all, and prefer to be more anonymous in their giving habits. People from different professions and life stages may connect with different messages differently. Filter “best practices’ advice through your knowledge of the audience you are trying to connect with.

9) Stay fresh and consistent. Try new things. Change the look of your campaigns. Experiment with new ideas.

10) User experience matters – how do people want to donate? Who is it that people are connecting with when they send an email/make a phone call?  Is it easy to go from ‘a feeling of wanting to get involved” to actually making a commitment? Are your websites easy to navigate?

11) The little things matter. Send a thank you letter (by post!) to every donor. Cultivate a relationship over time.

12) Stay humble, and know that results do not lie in your control.