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Boost Your Fundraising Success with Three Key Takeaways from AFP ICON 2024

Last month, President & CEO Michelle Cramer, CFRE and Consultant Maddy Andrews jetted off to Toronto, Canada for AFP ICON 2024! Hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, AFP ICON brings together thousands of fundraising professionals from around the globe for unparalleled education, training, and networking each year.

If you couldn’t attend AFP ICON 2024, don’t worry! We compiled three key takeaways:

1: Keep it Simple

Brené Brown’s “clear is kind” is one of our team’s favorite mantras, and the art of keeping it simple was reinforced through several sessions at AFP ICON 2024. 

In our experience, we’ve seen how easy it can be for nonprofit professionals to get in the weeds when undertaking something as big and important as a capital campaign. A lot is on the line for a nonprofit organization during a major fundraising effort like this, and the pressure to make sure everything is perfect before getting your bold vision in front of donors can be daunting. That brings us to another favorite mantra: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Oftentimes, the simplest approach to elements of your campaign strategy is the best and most authentic approach.

Consider these four powerful ideas from AFP ICON 2024 when you’re striving to keep it simple:

  1. Lean into authentic, short, easy-to-make video briefings as a vehicle for sharing updates with donors, prospective donors, and the public. Communication is key throughout any fundraising endeavor, and it’s especially important during a campaign. Focus your time and resources on what matters most, and leverage the tools already at your fingertips to communicate with audiences in new ways! Whether it’s a Zoom recording or a short recording on your smart phone, this style of video is not only less time consuming and more budget-friendly, but it also tends to resonate with donors more than a highly produced, expensive video. It’s one thing to read about your mission and campaign visions, but it is much more impactful when audiences can see it come to life through the voices and faces of passionate leaders, donors, volunteers, program participants, and Board members.
  2. Don’t underestimate the power of small acts of stewardship. Skip the elaborate, over-the-top events that only engage donors once a year, and take 15 minutes each week thank your donors! Sharing the real impact of donations goes a long way through short, handwritten thank you notes, or a mission update consisting of a photo and a short blurb. These simple acts are powerful opportunities to engage your Board members in a meaningful way, and when done correctly, they keep your organization top-of-mind for donors who feel engaged and in-the-know.
  3. Don’t over-complicate your ask. Sometimes, nonprofit professionals unintentionally dilute their request with anecdotal information about their organization. Keep it simple and boil it down to three components: why you’re asking them, how their passions align with your request, and what specifically it is that you’re asking for. Then listen!

2: Be Inclusive

Inclusivity was a recurring theme at AFP ICON 2024, and it’s no surprise considering this is one factor that every successful fundraising effort has in common.

We especially know this to be true when a nonprofit is gearing up for a campaign with a feasibility study, executing a campaign strategy, or distributing campaign communications.

When your nonprofit launches a capital or comprehensive campaign with a bold fundraising goal, the spotlight on your organization becomes brighter. If inclusivity isn’t woven into every stage of your campaign, you could miss an opportunity to capitalize on this newfound attention shone on your mission and vision… simply because you may not resonate with key audiences who feel left out.

Here are a few key areas to consider intentional inclusivity that we heard through valuable dialogue in several education sessions at AFP ICON:

  1. Implement an inclusive dynamic within your own team. Include your development staff in important strategic planning discussions and decisions, like board recruitment and annual budget creation, to ensure that fundraising effectiveness is a priority at every level of your nonprofit organization.
  2. Take a look at your campaign leadership. Are your chairs or your committees diverse not only in race and gender, but also in age? Engaging both rising young leaders and established leaders can go a long way in resonating with a wider donor pool and boosting your fundraising success in an authentic way.
  3. Be mindful of how you’re talking about donors. Cultivate an expectation of grateful, positive dialogue about the donors who are supporting your campaign within your team. You wouldn’t treat them like a number when you’re face-to-face, so give them the same genuine respect even when they’re not in the room with you.
  4. Analyze every aspect of your campaign marketing and communications tools to ensure the words and visuals you’re using are inclusive. Ask yourself these questions: Is the imagery in your marketing materials reflective of the population you serve? Are you using language that is easy for anyone to understand, even if they are not a subject matter expert in your mission?

3: Make it Meaningful

All the fundraising, marketing, and stewardship activities in the world won’t effectively resonate with donors if they aren’t truly meaningful.

For instance, during a capital or comprehensive campaign, a meaningful message or engagement could be the thing that pushes a donor to share your story or make a transformational gift. After a campaign, those meaningful touchpoints could turn a donor’s one-time campaign gift into a lifetime of ongoing support for your organization.

Here are three ideas from AFP ICON 2024 to consider that could bring more meaning to your next campaign and drive fundraising success:

  1. Ensure your case for support is centered around a bright path forward. While it’s important to educate donors about the need for your mission, they are much more likely to feel a meaningful connection to your vision for positive impact than to an issue that just feels too overwhelming to solve. Use your case for support as an opportunity to position your organization as a subject matter expert and a source of hope.
  2. Don’t let efficiency trump strategy. For busy nonprofit professionals who wear multiple hats, it can be tempting to want to quickly check something off your to-do list; but meaningful communication and stewardship can be the difference between a one-time gift and a deep relationship that enriches your organization for years to come. Instead of sending the quick email, pick up the phone and have an intentional conversation with donors and stakeholders. Instead of doing the “rinse and repeat” method with your requests, strategically think about how you can find impactful and meaningful opportunities for donors to make a difference at your organization.
  3. Don’t keep the small wins and day-to-day mission moments a secret.  As a nonprofit leader with boots on the ground every day, mini milestones may seem somewhat insignificant… but remember that your donors don’t have the privilege of being constantly immersed in the impact of your mission. Share these moments with your donors in a timely manner so they always feel the true meaning and importance of their donation.

Considering launching a campaign? Considering the roles that simplicity, inclusivity, and meaningfulness could play in your campaign success? We’d love to hear about your vision and where you’re at in the process. Contact us with more information, and we’ll be in touch to schedule your free discovery call and chat about your dream campaign.

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