A few ideas for those financially slow summer months
In November and December of every year, money starts to flow towards the non-profit world like no other time of year. You probably send your big call for donations in October, knowing that your members and donors are planning for the end of the tax year. At one of the more successful non-profits I’ve worked for, we spent most of January catching up, and then we were thrown into the major work of our annual volunteer event.
Large volunteer events seem to work best in the Spring. Just before school gets out, classrooms can come as groups, and the weather is just nice enough to get everyone outside.
By the time you’ve recovered from a big Spring event, things in the financial departments are often stalling. And this Summer… well, let’s just say that people aren’t feeling spendy.
So what can you do to jump-start your member donations again? Or better yet, how can you keep your costs low when a cash drought hits?
First of all: clean house. Do all those little things that you never have time to do. Do some filing and clean up your desk. Although this seems silly or obvious, you’ll be amazed by how refreshed you’ll feel with a clean slate in front of you.
Update the website with new photos and re-worked text. Freshen your organizations face to the world. A little website love will be appreciated by those members who may have lapsed or gotten bored by the same old message.
Speaking of members, clean up your member database. Get rid of duplicates and bad addresses – how much money do you spend sending mail that gets returned? Go through and find the folks who used to be members but have lapsed. Send them an email asking if they have ideas for how the organization could better serve the constituency. Focus on engaging donors in conversation, rather than asking them to mail a check. Subtly let them know that you’ve noticed they’re not as interested, and that you want their attention again.
Take some time to organize the office.
Once you can see it all again, look at what you have and work on the wish list. Identify a few items that you could really use, but that are outside the everyday spending price range, like a projector or new computer. If you don’t already have a wish list on your website, put it up there. You never know what your fans and members have lying around in the garage.
Once you know what you need, aim to get those things for free. One small non-profit I’ve worked for receives free office supplies. How? A teacher who always brings her classroom to the volunteer events puts out a call to parents, who then send their kids to school with a ream of paper, some pens, maybe some staples. Once a year, they deliver piles of paper, white and colored, pens, pencils, highlighters, tape, post-its, and all kinds of other things. This kind of community support is a great demonstration of how much your organization is appreciated – thank your donors publicly and remind your large funders that even school kids are pitching in.
And if you can’t get those wish list items for free, hold a mini-drive. Of course, this quiet time is the perfect time to have a project on Cauzoom. Ask the community of volunteers and members to buy some gift certificates – for things they might buy anyway or as a gift for someone else – and at the same time you can replace that ominously slow computer, or buy much needed supplies. Cauzoom offers a way to engage those members and volunteers who haven’t been able or willing to donate directly for a while.
Consider an inexpensive project that combines family fun with education about your mission and the work you do. Hold an art day and use some of the final pieces as Thank You card designs that can then be used as membership premiums. Use Cauzoom to raise money for supplies and printing costs. Give parents an easy way to hang out with their kids, and always have a donations jar handy (with some fives and tens in it so it looks like others are giving already). Have an email sign-up list handy, too, in case your faithful followers bring their friends.
Every small event can be an opportunity for people to donate, and even small gatherings serve as a reminder of all the good things you do. If you can hold an event that doesn’t cost much money, and doesn’t take a lot of employee time, you are doing your organization a favor that will give back in time: events serve to build community.
Your volunteers and members are a community of people who probably don’t know that much about each other yet – give them opportunities to spend time together. Hold an educational walk for singles who want to meet other people that are interested in the work your organization does.
If you can combine one or two low-maintenance events with an office re-org and a website and database clean-up, your summer will be over before you know it. You will have connected with your members and volunteers and helped them to connect with each other. Some percentage will renew or become members right away, and all will remember the fun they had when it comes time for that year-end appeal letter.
When you’re thinking of new strategies to bring in cash, remember there are other ways to make your organization more efficient and effective. Take any and every opportunity to remind your supporters that your organization was founded to do good work for the community, and that when everyone pitches in just a little bit, big things can happen. Now clean up that desk!