fundraising industry, local, nonprofit profile, regional

Some GiveSTL Day 2019 Statistics

GiveSTL Day is a one-day campaign for St. Louis-area nonprofit organizations. The appeals are generally made through electronic solicitation and social media, but there are no real rules, so organizations can run their campaigns how they wish.

Some of my favorite organizations participate: Spirit of Discovery Park, the Humane Society of Missouri, even the Sierra Club. This is a way to bring the whole community, both organizations and donors, together in a spirit of cooperation and healthy competition.

It’s usually scheduled in the first week of May. I first heard about it in 2018, and this year, 2019, I paid a lot closer attention. I’ve been looking at some 2019 results, and I’ll share a few highlights with some take-aways for those planning to participate next year.

1. Aggregate Results Don’t Really Help Much For Individual Organization Understanding

There were 887 organizations signed up. Of those, 842 received donations, with total donations (including prizes) over $3,000,000. That’s a lot of money, but it’s also not very helpful to individual organizations trying to learn how to make GiveSTL Day a success for them.

For the rest of these analyses, I’m using the GiveSTL Day data that shows results by individual organization, which does not include prizes so the total is only $2.89 million. This is an average of $3,434 per organization. Not bad, but that total is pretty skewed by a few large “winners” and many small “not-so-winners”.

Over 50% of the groups participating in 2019 had under $1,000 of donations. 504 of the 887 received $999 or less. That’s almost not worth it, if you consider the time taken by a staff member to create a campaign, design some artwork, solicit a match, design and produce artwork (or take photographs), plan, write, and publish social media posts and e-mails, set up autoresponder thank-yous, and so on. What’s the return there? I can imagine it might be pretty difficult to justify the same activity for such a low return next year.

However, if you did absolutely nothing, and still got $1,000, it might make sense to participate again. Because, hey, free money.

The point is, it’s hard to look just at aggregates and figure out what’s going on. You need to break results down by organization size and sector to have a good feel for what you could get out of GiveSTL Day. Those will tell you more about how your peers fared, and with some analysis could show you how you did relative to them.

But it probably won’t give you much certainty on what you would get if you participate again next year. Which, to be frank, is what we’re all looking for, right? We all want that secret sauce that turns our GiveSTL Day campaigns into the money trees we dream of.

It’s not that easy.

2. Size Is No Guarantee of Success or Lack Thereof

Organizations are grouped according to size of their budget: Micro (<$250,000), Small (up to $1,000,000), Medium (up to $2,000,000), and Large (everything above $2,000,000).

The fact is, there are small groups that have plenty of success and large groups that struggle. The Small segment this year included 379 organizations. 52 of those received over $3,000 on GiveSTL Day. And 12 of those were over $10,000. Evidently, small-budget organizations can still find the money to create major results in one-day campaigns like this. And remember, $10,000 on a $250,000 budget is a much bigger bump than the same amount on a $1,000,000 budget.

One factor that certainly helps: 10 of those 12 had a match available. Having a match is like free money, in multiple ways. It provides an incentive to give (because that money will be doubled), and it’s a large amount that comes with little effort.

I highly encourage all groups next year to start with a match, as a good way to create additional motivation for giving. (More on that later.)

In the same vein as small is not bad, let me say that being bigger is no guarantee of success, either. Yes, the biggest numbers did come from the largest groups. ThriVe ($181k), Stray Rescue of St. Louis ($136k), Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition ($110k), and St. Louis Priory School ($106k) had big days. But for the rest of the 205 Large groups, just being big was no better indicator of how their day would turn out. Only 58 of them had donations over $3,000 on the day, just past the 52 of the Small groups.

And of all of the 205 Large organizations, only 109 (53%) received $1,000 or more. That means that if you were a Large organization, and participated in GiveSTL Day in 2019, the chances of you walking away with over $1,000 were pretty much a coin flip.

This is an encouragement and a challenge. An encouragement to those small organizations that your results can be better, with appropriate strategy and an effective campaign. And it is a challenge, to those organizations who think that just relying on their name and their current size will be enough to make GiveSTL Day a success. You’re going to have to work for it.

3. A Match Is Not Just Helpful, It Is ESSENTIAL

I said above that having a Match is like free money. It can inspire higher donations, because of the desire to make that donation work even harder. Take a look at the aggregates:

  • 735 groups WITHOUT a match received $1.27 million ($1,725 each)
    • Average gift of $94
  • 107 groups WITH a match received $1.62 million ($15,175 each)
    • Average gift of $202

Fewer organizations, received significantly more money, with almost twice as much given per donation. Now, that’s not to say that having a match guarantees you more money. But having a match is more than just inspiring higher-dollar contributions.

Yes, a match is good for your donors, because it gives them something to shoot for, an initial goal that they can accomplish with the right initial effort.

Beyond that, though, a match is a signal that your organization is doing the right things. It shows that you’re planning GiveSTL Day as a campaign, not as an event. It shows that you’re being thoughtful about how you solicit matches throughout the year.

And planning early enough to get a match in place means that you’re more likely to complete the rest of the essential campaign steps in time for success as well: a marketing concept identified, a timeline planned, resources aligned to take advantage of specials like prizes, etc.

A word of caution: be careful how big you set your match. You want the matching dollar amount for GiveSTL Day to be something that’s going to challenge donors, but you don’t want it to be so far out that you don’t get there. That’s actually wasting your match money. For example, Five Acres Animal Shelter received over $30,000 on GiveSTL Day. But they also had over $5,300 of match remaining unused. Essentially, they missed out on over $10,000 of donations ($5,300 that could have been given and $5,300 that would have been matched).

If the Shelter had an indication of how much of that match would be used, then maybe they could have dedicated those matching funds to another campaign later in the year. As it turned out, there seems to be a missed opportunity.

All that to say – be strategic in how you structure your match. You want to make your matching funder happy that you’ve been able to satisfy her desire to inspire donations, and asking for too big a match (or putting too much of it towards GiveSTL Day) may counteract that.

Conclusion

GiveSTL Day is a giving campaign designed to bring the St. Louis region together for a common purpose. Like similar one-day digital campaigns across the country, there are many opportunities. My suggestions: start early (like every campaign) and get a match (like every campaign, if you can). And make sure you don’t let your own internal view of your organization’s size (and how that may make success easier or harder) inhibit your disciplined approach to having a great GiveSTL Day.

business development, fundraising industry

0 Jobs – and 3 Networking Lessons from the DMFA Awards

Am I that naive?

How can networking result in 0 jobs and still be a success?

A little bit of background: Last year (2018), I visited the DMFA Awards meeting. I had some, I thought, relevant insights. I also attended the Bridge Conference, the Chicago Nonprofit Conference, the AFP St. Louis Gateway Conference, and the AWAI Bootcamp. And this year I attended the DC Nonprofit Conference and the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference.

In 12 months I’ve done a lot of travel, to meet specific industry members who do the work I do, who hire people like me.

I networked my ass off.

I met a lot of people. I handed out a lot of business cards. I collected a lot of swag.

I got a book (Unconscious Branding) in one of the bags. I read it. I reviewed it. I’m going to post a review of that soon. When I do, I’ll come back to this post and link it.

I missed my kids. And I missed baseball games, orchestra concerts, and volleyball practices. They missed me.

I collected my fair share of airline miles.

And so, one might ask, how successful was all of that “networking”? Was it worth it?

A year later, I look at the 7 conferences I’ve attended, the hundreds of business cards in my Rolodex, and the thousands of e-mails I’ve sent. What happened after all that activity?

I got 0 jobs.

Zero.

None.

No assignments. No opportunities. No paychecks.

Oh, I’ve been paid. I’ve had checks from local clients, and those in other states. I’m not starving. But out of those in-person industry meetings where I pay hundreds of dollars to sit in a room an listen to everyone else tell me how to do my job better?

Zilch.

And yet, I still call all of that successful. Not because of the jobs I did or did not get, but because of the networking I did during those meetings. It paid off this year. Maybe not in a great big way, with a large retainer contract, but in starting the connections I need to build in order to make that happen in the future.

And here’s why I call getting 0 jobs a success.

This year, I attended the DMFA Awards again.

I flew to New York. Paid my registration fee, had lunch, and met two incredible people. Not for the first time … and hopefully not for the last, either.

Stephen is a copywriter, who used to be a freelancer like me. We met at the DC Nonprofit Conference earlier this year. We exchanged cards, and later, LinkedIn connections.

When I met him this year at the DMFA Awards, he had gotten out of freelance and taken a full-time agency job. Yet he knows people who will still want freelancers, and actually asked for my card to pass along my information to others when they ask. I now have an advocate out there making connections on my behalf. Success #1.

I also sat next to Tiffany. I met her the first time last year at the Bridge Conference. She works for Doctors Without Borders. This year she attended, and as we conversed, she said that she remembered me. I was a little surprised, as I didn’t think I’d made any impressions, so I asked why.

Last year, I gave her a whole packet about me, with samples of my direct mail writing. She said it was incredibly easy to hand that to someone and say, “I met a copywriter. Here’s his stuff.”

Advocate #2 (though she was advocating for me long before I actually knew it!). Success #2.

There’s a Point to All This

So, based on that experience, I have 3 networking take-aways for all those out there just getting started, or changing it up, or looking to go deeper.

1. SHOW UP. OFTEN.

You won’t get to actually meet people if you just sit at home and e-mail. Would Stephen have been asking for my card again if he had never seen me the first time? Probably not. I’d be another face in the crowd, or “just another copywriter”, unless I actually showed up to 2 different meetings he was attending. When I showed up, when you show up, you demonstrate your commitment to your craft, to the industry, and to your peers. You might not know everything, but at least you’re ahead of those who don’t even bother to put in that much effort.

Nobody’s going to hire you on the first time they meet you. Marketers know it takes 6 to 8 touches to get someone even interested in a brand. The same is true for you as a professional. Don’t just assume it’s going to happen after the first coffee conversation. Go where they are.

Show up.

2. BE PREPARED.

Know your audience. In all of those conferences last year, I knew I would be meeting professionals who work with direct mail. So, I prepared a direct mail packet, to demonstrate that I do, in fact, know how to write for direct mail.

Plus, having that packet made it ridiculously easy for someone to evaluate my credentials. I wasn’t asking them to try to remember, days and days and days later, to take extra steps to visit my website to see samples. I had done the hard work for them, and I know that people appreciate when you make it easy on them.

Heck, that’s the only reason I read Unconscious Branding. It was ridiculously easy to find; all I had to do was look in my bag at the DC conference, and there it was. In the same way, all Tiffany had to do was to grab hold of whatever I’d already given her, and then give that to her colleague who works with copywriters. That professional, too, is going to be automatically able to see my credentials, without the hurdle of visiting my website, because I was prepared for my audience.

3. BE MEMORABLE.

Tiffany remembered me. Because I showed up and I was prepared. Stephen remembered me. Because I showed up, and I was prepared. I was also professional, not amateurish, and I had my “story” ready to go. I am memorable to them, because I have something unique about me. I have a good story to tell, I know why I’m doing what I’m doing, and I know what sets me apart. All of these mean that I’m not “just another copywriter,” but I’m actually quite unique.

Knowing why I want to do what I’m doing is a great help when figuring out how to present myself at these networking meetings. If you’re not memorable, you’re not … memorable.

This doesn’t mean you should show up in a pink clown suit, or stand up on top of the dinner table and announce your availability over the next 3 months and your prices, in a loud (okay, probably also drunk) voice. Those are the bad kind of memorable.

It does mean that you should know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why that’s important. That’s the good kind of memorable.

Look, I’m Not Saying It’s Easy.

In fact, it’s downright depressing sometimes when I think of the number of times I’ve been groped by TSA for virtually no return.

But, then, I think about those two conversations in New York, and I know it’s worth it.

Maybe not today.

Maybe not tomorrow.

But … someday, those networking connections are going to pay off.

Big time.

Because networking is not about getting a job right then and there. Networking is about building a network.

If you build it, well –

You know the rest.

business development, fundraising industry

Hey Nonprofits! Why Aren’t You Spending MORE on Fundraising?

It’s a pretty simple question, really.

Why don’t you spend more time, more effort,

and more MONEY on fundraising? 

Look, we all know that fundraising is hard. Direct mail returns sometimes seem too low to justify the effort. Email response rates are dismal. And grant applications? Who wants to get rejected 7 times out of 10? No, thanks.

Plus, all that time spent doing fundraising is taking time away from your mission: saving animals, restoring the local greenways, or ensuring that kids don’t have to go home hungry over the weekend. I get it – fundraising isn’t why you got into the industry in the first place.

But it’s a necessary component of running your nonprofit. So if there was a hidden switch inside your fundraising process that could magically expand your funds available to do the good work you signed up for, why wouldn’t you flip it?

The good news is, it’s already there.

The bad news, though, is that you’re going to have to do some work to make it happen.

As much as I might like to say I’m the expert in everything, I’m not. I’m no botanist, social scientist, or playwright. However, I do know numbers. And the one that sticks out to me is the Cost to Raise a Dollar.

This is the standard metric within the nonprofit world, and it represents how much it takes to bring $1 in the door. For some charities, it’s less than a dime. For others, it’s up over $0.40. That’s not to judge either one as right or wrong. In fact, the national average is around $0.20 (see link for details).

So this, to me, signals the opportunity. If it only costs $0.20 to raise a dollar, that means you have a 5-to-1 return on every penny spent on fundraising! That’s up in the realm of stratospheric returns promised by many financial gurus hawking investment newsletters. If that’s the opportunity available, why wouldn’t you continue to spend more to get more?

The difference is, they’re selling you something that may or may not pan out, while you, in your organization, KNOW what your costs are and what your returns are. So, if it costs you $0.25 to raise $1.00, you can be fairly confident that if you expand your fundraising operations next year by $25,000, you should bring in an additional $100,000.

What else could you do with an additional $75,000? That’s $75,000 towards more rescued kittens, low-income student scholarships, or innovative gallery exhibits. Or, think about this. Maybe you reinvest that $75,000 again the next year and turn it into $300,000. Do it once more and now you’re at $1,000,000. WHOA.

It comes down to this: If you could earn those additional funds next year, simply by flipping the switch and expanding your fundraising operations, what’s stopping you? If you can think of three good reasons why putting more time and money into fundraising wouldn’t provide you with the standard 3-to-1, 5-to-1, or even 10-to-1 returns, then you shouldn’t do it.

But I’m betting you won’t have those three good reasons. Probably just one, “It’s not in our budget.” And if that’s true, then we have another conversation to have. But, if you’re willing to at least ask the question of whether you can get more by doing more, it means it’s probably time to consider expanding your fundraising efforts. So: what’s holding you back?