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Louise Knauer: Tapping into the philanthropic mindset of each age group is critical.
Louise Knauer: Tapping into the philanthropic mindset of each age group is critical.

The Art of Storying: Keys to year-round fundraising in storytelling

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Nonprofits battle donor fatigue year round, but the constant onslaught of the holiday season can be especially difficult.

“If you go to the well too often like Chicken Little with the sky is falling each month, the impact of the donation is lost,” said Louise Knauer, senior vice president of communications and marketing for Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

For the past five years, Giving Tuesday has joined the multiple named “shopping holidays” as part of the Christmas rush – Gray Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

While GivingTuesday.org reports 1.56 million gifts this season resulting in $168 million donated in 98 countries online, the weeklong spending blitz can leave personal bank accounts slim. Couple that outbound cash increase with taxable planned giving before the new year and nonprofits are riding a donation wave.

But what happens in January when the tide subsides – how can nonprofits extend that giving feeling year-round?

Local leaders say make donors part of the story.

“It’s not just about fundraising. It’s about how you get the community excited,” said Joshua Best, development and marketing coordinator for the Springfield Art Museum. “If they’re interested in the story, in being part of the story, they will stay involved after the initial money is raised.”

The museum is coming off the heels of a successful Give Ozarks Day campaign – a communitywide day of giving organized through CFO and powered by Cause Momentum – which brought in $17,100 to restore the iconic “French fry” art on museum grounds. In addition to restoring John Henry’s “Sun Target II,” as it’s officially named, Best said the day of giving also would allow the museum to restore two other sculptures.

“Love it or loath it, people know the French fries,” he said. “It has a story they could be a part of.

“We saw a lot of small donations. They were plugged into the story behind that sculpture.”

Different method, same goal
Some charities try their hand at multiple methods. Like the museum, Least Of These Inc. and Care to Learn took part in both Giving Tuesday and Give Ozarks Day. Others rely heavily on end-of-year donations as tax write-offs or a single event, such as a silent auction, during the year.

But Knauer said don’t be fooled by what looks like a one-day ask. What may appear like a single push – such as Giving Tuesday – is actually a highly coordinated effort behind the scenes, often taking months of planning by employees.

“Yes, it might seem like that on the public facing side,” she said, “but there is a lot that goes into that donor development. You’re cultivating those relationships all year.”

Knauer said no matter the method, the goal is always the same: Tap into the philanthropic mindset.

“Someone interested in a tax write-off does not have the same mindset as someone who is going to donate $50 a month when they can,” she said. “Understand their reason and you can capture those dollars whenever.”

Experts at online educational community Nonprofit Hub contend donor fatigue is a myth – an excuse for bad asks – anytime of year. Marc Pitman of FundraisingCoach.com explained in a recent Nonprofit Hub article:

“I don’t know of any donors who are tired of giving to causes that they value, they are passionate about, they are excited to be involved in,” Pitman said. “I know plenty of donors who are being fatigued of being crappily asked.”

The volunteer factor
Yearlong awareness is more than monetary. Recruiting volunteers also is vital for many organizations. Nonprofits like Convoy of Hope, for example, rely on volunteers to package meals before delivery worldwide.

According to the Drury University Center for Nonprofit Leadership’s 2016 volunteerism study, the annual economic value of formal volunteerism in the Springfield area is over $43.5 million. Nonprofit and civic organizations save big bucks by using volunteers instead of paying for services with the average annual savings of more than $185,000 per organization.

The study goes on to say there is a clear correlation between those who give their time and financial contributions. More than 90 percent of volunteers donated money to a charity within the prior 12 months.

Knauer said she has seen no direct quantifiable correlation between CFO’s Give Ozarks Day and volunteer numbers, but successful campaigns can only help raise awareness of the need.
 
“The art museum is really a poster child for how to follow-up with and engage donors on all levels,” she said. “If you are cultivating that interest in the organization itself, you can grow volunteers and even potential board members.”

According to the study, nearly 55,000 people serve as formal volunteers in the Springfield area, performing more than 155,000 hours of service each month. On average, volunteers serve roughly 18 hours a month.

Springfield Art Museum’s Best said he’s seen attendance rise all summer following Family Art Lab days, a free space where children and caregivers can do guided art activities or free play.

“This was, in part, due to the Family Fun at the French Fries event we held on Give Ozarks Day that highlighted some of these activities,” he said.

Moving forward with it’s next Give Ozarks Day push, the museum will focus on restoration of its outdoor amphitheater, a WPA-era project whose columns are the city’s only remnant of the Colonial Hotel.

“Our goal is to retain the momentum we gained the previous year,” Best said. “Small donations can make a big impact. We want them plugged into our story.”

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