By Molly Fast
Welcome back! A couple weeks ago I kicked off this two-part blog post sharing about my fundraising success with Cycle for Survival. In the first blog post I shared that I’ve raised nearly $150,000 in the past six years for rare cancer research and outlined the first four (of nine) steps to my fundraising formula. Here’s a quick recap of what we covered:
1. Get ready to get uncomfortable.
2. Set a goal that requires you to step out of your comfort zone.
3. Make a personal ask sharing your personal story.
4. Ask everyone you know. And I mean everyone.
Let’s dive into the next five:
5. Ask for a specific amount.
Not everyone agrees with this and that’s fine. After all, I’m sharing what’s worked for me! Asking for a specific amount has been key to me raising nearly $150,000 for rare cancer research in the last six years.
For those who have donated to me in the past, I share how much they gave the last time and ask them to consider giving more―because each year I increase my goal. By telling them how much they donated previously, it gives them a benchmark and saves them the hassle of having to go back and look. I don’t ask for people to double their donation. I realize that’s likely too much of a stretch for people. But I do ask them to consider giving a titch more. Sometimes I cushion that ask like this: “I did the math and if each donor gave $11 more than last year, I will meet my goal. Last year you donated $100. Will you consider adding $11 more to that to help me raise $10,000 in 10 days?”
For those who have not donated before, I come up with a meaningful way to ask for a specific amount. Sometimes that looks like this “My friend George, the inspiration for this year’s participation in Cycle for Survival, turns 67 tomorrow. In honor of his birthday, would you consider donating $67 today?”
As you can see, there are endless ways in which you could settle on a specific amount to ask for. Whatever you do, stretch yourself. This is an area where you need to be willing to get uncomfortable. If you’re thinking of asking for $25, I’d implore you to stretch that and ask for $50. In most cases, your most frequent donation amount will be what you ask for. So think big!
And remember: no one will give you their last dollar or give you more than they feel comfortable giving.
6. Understand that follow-up is the key to your success.
If you take nothing else away from this two-part blog series, please let it be this: no fundraising strategy is complete without a plan of action for how you will follow-up with your donors, multiple times.
I’d like to say we live in a world where once you send out your perfectly personalized fundraising letter asking for a specific amount of money to be donated by a specific deadline that all your donations will just magically appear and your fundraising goal will be met with no struggle. But I’d be lying if I told you that’s what would happen.
Remember when I told you I reached out to 318 people for this year’s Cycle for Survival? Yeah. Only 29% donated from my initial fundraising ask. In my 25-day fundraising time frame, I sent out three more emails reminding people about my fundraiser and asking them to make their donation. Was I uncomfortable doing this? Yeah. I sure was. That last email was really hard for me to send. The internal dialogue I had to shut down was fierce. But I got 31 more donations and nearly $2,500 from the email I sent out the day before my ride. I almost didn’t send this out because it was uncomfortable and I had nearly convinced myself that if people had wanted to donate, they would have done so already. But I was wrong.
More than anything, I heard “Thank you for the reminder. I thought I missed my chance!” My donors were genuinely grateful for the nudge. They hadn’t donated because they forgot, or they got busy, or they thought they missed the window, or they thought they already had. Those who wanted to, gave. And those who couldn’t, ignored my request.
In total, I sent out 785 emails and 467 of those were follow-ups. The takeaway here is that fundraising takes a lot of hard work and potentially many hours. But it’s so worth it.
All good fundraisers follow-up with their donors multiple times. It is the key to getting to your goal and raising as much money as you can for the cause that you’re dedicating your time and energy to. So integrate this into your fundraising strategy and plan for more than one follow-up. You’ll be glad that you did.
7. Track your own data. (And analyze it!)
It’s so important to have good year-over-year records to keep track of your fundraising progress and list of donors. Granted, I have a massive document that tracks more than the average fundraiser would need. Most fundraising platforms provide you with the ability to keep track of contacts, emails sent, donations received, thank yous sent, etc. But I can’t stress the importance of being your own best record keeper.
I have a massive document where I track things like:
- Date of each ask (1st, 2nd, 3rd and final)
- Donation amount ask
- Donation amount received
- Days to donate (How many days between the first donation ask and the date of the donation?)
- New donor
- Previous year’s donation amounts
- Lifetime donation total
- Riding for (If they made the donation in honor of, in memory of, or in support of someone they’d like me to ride for.)
- Thank you sent
- Facebook acknowledgement
I know. It’s a lot. But it’s been such a key to my success to track to this level of detail. It’s allowed me to not freak out when I look back at previous years and see how many donors wait until the last ask before making a donation. And tracking donors throughout my years of participation has offered me another way to ask people for a donation. This year I paid attention to how many donors have donated every year I’ve participated. A few hadn’t yet made their 2018 donation and by looking at my data this way, I was able to really tailor my ask in a way I hadn’t thought of before: “Thank you for supporting me every year I’ve participated in Cycle for Survival. I hope I can count on you again this year for the 6th consecutive year.” (This also allows me to tailor a post-event thank-you notecard campaign differently by recognizing those donors who have supported me every year I’ve participated).
Another important reason to track is Facebook. Yes Facebook is making it easier than ever to donate to the causes you care about by allowing you to fundraise directly on their platform. But when those donors make donations via Facebook, you do not get their email address, mailing address or any other information that’s helpful in the kind of follow-up that I’m suggesting.
Be your own detective. Get down and dirty with your data and be curious about what it’s telling you. And if this is your first year, then it’s the perfect time to start because in future years you’ll have the most comprehensive set of data to explore!
8. Engage your donors in your event experience.
When I send out my donation requests, I ask my donors to share their connection to the cause and to share the names of the people in their life who I can ride in celebration or memory of. I tell them “I write these names on a poster I keep by my bike to inspire me as I ride for four hours.” And this is what that looks like:
Right off the bat, I connect with my donors; and whether they donate or not, I use these names to draw energy from as I pedal away and put them on display publicly so those around me know the names of the people who inspire my participation. See, the event is about so much more than me. It’s about the ways in which we―my donors and I―are using our voices and raising funds to make life better for those who need advocates fighting for their survival.
On the day of the ride, I also use Facebook pretty heavily. I check in the morning of the event and tag friends throughout the morning’s ride. I may say something like “This stretch of road is for those who donated in memory or celebration of a parent who battled a cancer diagnosis.” Or “This final hour is dedicated to those of you who are currently battling cancer or who are on the other side of your cancer diagnosis. Your bravery and strength inspire me as I pedal closer to a cure for all cancers.”
I also give my local donors the opportunity to come and see the event. If you haven’t been to Cycle for Survival, you’re missing out on one of the most energetic experiences of your life. It’s always an uplifting experience to be surrounded by people who share a similar goal. But this is off-the-charts-blood-pumping energy that makes you feel a part of something fun and important. Having my donors there makes the event experience even more special.
This past year, my friend George (who inspired this year’s participation because of his December diagnosis of cholangiocarcinoma), was literally standing beside me for portions of the final hour of my four-hour ride. Having him there made the event the most memorable one I’ve had yet. Gaining strength from his presence is a memory I will always cherish.
Keeping your donors engaged in what you’re doing and providing opportunities for them to be part of your event experience is a win-win for the both of you. But especially for your donor, who will know that it’s not just about their donation when you find ways to make them a part of your event experience.
9. Give thanks.
It goes without saying that you need to thank your donors. I know you know this. But there are ways in which you can thank your donors that can solidify your gratitude and set the groundwork from future support.
First, never ever let someone wonder whether you received their donation request. Send an immediate thank you via email as soon as you’ve been notified that a donation has come through. If you haven’t learned what your donor’s connection to the cause is, or who you can ride on behalf of, this is a perfect opportunity to ask for this information again.
To further your reach, I’d also recommend thanking your donors on Facebook. Speaking from experience, it’s a great psychological motivator for your future donors. They want to be thanked and acknowledged as well. So your public thank yous on Facebook may speed up the timing of a donation you’d already get, and it may also generate donations from people you wouldn’t normally consider reaching out to.
In addition to both of these, I send out a post-event thank-you email. I share the grand total we raised (I always use “we” when sharing fundraising totals with my donors because none of it would be possible without them) along with photos and a full event recap. And this is where I lay the groundwork for the following year: “Thank you, once again, for giving me the honor of riding on behalf of those we love. I continue to be humbled by and grateful for each person who made this year’s ride the overwhelmingly amazing experience that it was. While my body can use a break from the bike, I already can’t wait for Cycle for Survival 2019 and seeing what we can accomplish together.”
And finally, for people who have donated over a certain amount (this year I went with $150+), I send a personalized thank you note (in the form of a photo of me holding up a sign with their name on it on my event spin bike), to acknowledge their generous donation.
There are countless ways in which you can thank your donors. As I said, the most important thing is to do it right away and to do another thank-you post-event. It helps for your donor to understand exactly what they’ve been part of and for you to make them feel as important as they are. After all, peer-to-peer fundraising only happens when those around us take the time to support us and make a donation to the causes we’re fundraising on behalf of.
So there you have it! That’s my 9-Step Formula to Fundraising Success! Some of this may work for you and some of it may not. The cool thing about peer-to-peer fundraising is that you are only limited by your imagination and the law. So try things out and see what works best for you. And please tell us about your formula to fundraising success in the comments below!
Molly Fast leads the company’s local operations for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day series and is privileged to work with Event 360’s participant-facing team. For nearly 15 years, Molly has been fortunate enough to combine her love of fundraising with the ability to make a difference in the work she does focusing on exceeding expectations and delighting participants along the way. When not roaming around Ireland, Molly can be found taking photos, exploring hidden stair cases or talking to strangers in Santa Monica where she lives with her husband. You can find Molly on Twitter, LinkedIn and her favorite social media tool, Instagram.