7 Winning Tactics for Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Playbook

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

February 9th, 2023

Sunday’s nationally televised broadcast is an American tradition, and there’s nothing else quite like it. Since the advent of streaming on demand, we each watch what we want in a bubble of our own making. Maybe that’s what makes live athletic events like the S**r Bl (have you SEEN the usage rights fee?) even more compelling these days.

Shared experiences form the fabric of cultures and relationships. Remember how people slapped their hands over their ears and yelled “NO SPOILERS” as they fled the conference room during Game of Thrones season? It’s nice to feel Big Anticipation Energy in the air again.

I’m looking forward to the water-cooler debates that rate the players and the commercials to separate the studs from the duds, and to busting the chops of those who’ve caved in to “Hangover Monday.” Yeah, that’s a thing — it’s estimated that about 10% of the US workforce historically calls in ‘sick’ to work the Monday after the game, adding up to about $4B in lost productivity. So we can agree that too much fun can be bad sometimes.

Usually, fun is good. It’s even good FOR you: laughing burns calories, happier people live longer, healthier lives, and memorable fun can build positive associations with your brand. The same goes for nonprofits, especially in a crowded market where time is now a high-value currency: in essence, the more time you spend positively engaging with a brand, the more likely you are to spend money there in the future.

Advertisers respect the unique cultural opportunity a Big Bowl ad represents, so they tend to give them their all: yuge budgets, big bets, and the best brains they can find. One of our own Creative Directors won a Cannes Lion for that U2 “Invisible” campaign that aired during Super Bowl 2014, but it must be said that her most vivid memories involve nearly crashing iTunes and begging Bono’s people for copy approval.

There is no question that the Big Game is Bono-worthy, however. It is one of the few ‘unicorns’ left in traditional broadcasting: a live event with massive viewership where people watch — and discuss — the commercials live … between bites of the 1.25 billion chicken wings, 4 million pizzas and 8 million pounds of guacamole we’ll be eating that day, resulting in an anticipated 20% rise in antacid sales on the Monday after the game.

So whether your 7-layer dip leans Mexican, Mediterranean or both (mmm … 14-layer dip) — Getcha Popcorn Ready for these 7 winning plays you can try. And who knows? Maybe if you call in sick on Super Monday, your boss will be more understanding if you tell them you were doing research.

1. pick up the media blitz

With the attention (and budgets) dedicated to SB ads, we are inundated with ad-related media speculation and teases before the game, and discussion and analysis afterwards. Ad buys start about a month before, and cross-channel content showcases different facets of the production process and ad clips until kickoff. You’ll notice that advertisers are repeating and reinforcing their message across channels, creating a halo effect and temporarily eclipsing much of their usual advertising.

Repetition is an effective tactic for fundraisers as well. Themed appeals for emergencies, pillar campaigns, GivingTuesday and Year End perform better if messages are cohesive, clear and frequent. Consider shifting or halting evergreen campaigns and invest in more reach and impressions for your featured campaign instead.

2. Focus on the (storytelling) fundamentals

How does one thirty-second spot stand out from the other 79 we’ll see during this four-hour broadcast? People absorb and retain information better when they receive it in story form, which is one reason why storytelling is such an important tool in the fundraiser’s kit. Tactics like humor, recognizable celebrities, and memorable catchphrases, taglines, and slogans also help tackle the audience’s attention and prime our brains for brand recognition.

Behavioral marketing tactics like these can be effective ways to help your nonprofit build resonance with donors and prospects and ensure your cause remains top of mind. Smart marketing efforts build on a brand’s existing equity, evolving the ubiquitous and nostalgic juuuust enough to ensure the brand stays relevant and authentic — without sacrificing any of their trusted familiarity. The best SB ads do it in 30 seconds or less.

Consider your own 30-second elevator pitch. Is your nonprofit solving a visible, authentic problem that feels urgent, or has it been a while since you updated your materials? How can your brand’s message be refined to better convey the need for support to fuel your mission? Every asset you produce should have a purpose that’s clear to anyone who sees it — every pair of eyes is a potential donor.

No two channels are alike, but an integrated marketing campaign should all look and feel like siblings in the same family. Each touch can be used to tell a different facet of your story or fulfill a different function for your organization.

The success metric dictates the call to action, so agree on a goal FIRST. Creative can then craft concepts and copy that lead up to the action you want a donor to take – whether that’s making a donation, learning more, or watching a video update about someone their gifts have helped in the past.

3. Legendary teamwork makes everyone a first-string player

Ads get more diverse every day, and it’s about time. So does America. Every member of a winning team is of equal value, and combined performance is all that matters. COVID-19 should have been a wakeup call for anyone paying attention: our fates are inextricably intertwined. And when given the opportunity, people take action to help others in need.

But COVID-19 also shined a light on the social injustice, economic disparities and health care inequities that ultimately hurt us all. Many nonprofits address issues that cross political, demographic, social, economic, gender, racial, and religious lines, so there is much to be gained by working together. When your values align with those of a different nonprofit with a complimentary mission, strategic partnerships can improve efficiency and reach.

Nonprofits have the unique privilege of serving some of our nation’s most diverse communities, so be sure to take advantage of the broadcast network that’s right under your nose: employees, volunteers and even donors can all be enlisted as part of your social media army. Ask them to post, challenge them to create, encourage them to share and comment. By leveraging the reach, talents and perspectives of your inner circle, you can widen that circle over time.

Content is the future, and people are naturally more interested in other people than in brands. In your nonprofit’s story, make heroes of your donors, your constituents and your frontline mission delivery teams. Feature the roles they play, why they’re involved in your cause, tell stories from people in the communities they support, but be sensitive to avoid “us and them” perceptions and white-savior stereotypes that undermine the power of autonomous, diverse groups of people.

More perspective can only bring deeper insight. By deliberately working to enhance the diversity of nonprofit leadership, outreach and fundraising efforts, donor data and service delivery, we can all play an active role in ensuring the needs of all communities and constituencies are more effectively met from today on.

4. FOMO is real: Behavioral marketers call it ‘perishability’

Last year’s most-talked-about ad? A lone, bouncing QR code on a blank background. Once scanned, the QR clicked through to a cryptocurrency exchange site (what a difference a year makes). It’s not exactly a Budweiser Clydesdale, but the ad effectively leveraged a nearly universal human trait: curiosity.

Having no clue about the ad’s duration, purpose and landing destination made America’s armchair FOMO run fast and deep. Not knowing WTH was up made everyone want to know, and the resulting flood of engagement crashed said cryptocurrency exchange site. We’re also still talking about the ad a year later.

Nonprofits can use a similar tactic that FreeWill calls the “knowledge gap,” or the distance between what a reader knows, and what they WANT to know. It’s a great technique for subject lines, Johnson boxes, and teasers designed to get people to open an envelope. For example, “What’s the one thing you need to know this flu season?” or “Chicago’s homeless veterans need one thing from you this year…”

You can also infuse your appeals with more urgency and perishability by adding prominent deadlines, tying campaigns to holidays or news events, and employing limited-time offers like matches, back-end premiums, giving societies and more. Focus on clearly telling the reader what they should do, and why they should do it NOW.

5. Everyone wins the Puppy Bowl

Is it really ‘The Big Game’ without a commercial appearance by the Budweiser Clydesdales (or Frogs….or Spuds McKensie)? You can be sure to see something cute, though who knows what it will do or what will happen to it. That’s because whatever football team you root for, you probably don’t hate animals and babies. Cute, vulnerable creatures make viewers pay attention and create an emotional connection.

Photos of children and animals can be extremely effective in fundraising materials, but a careful balance of cuteness and need must be struck. While the instinct to help the young and vulnerable is powerful, people tend to shy away from images they consider too painful. And if a donor can’t bear to read the piece, they won’t respond.

6. Video scores points with users across channels

We will all be inundated with Super Content streaming across multiple platforms, with video featured on almost every one. That’s just supply increasing to meet demand. If you’ve noticed that we’re all seeing more video everywhere these days, you are correct — because video works. People are consuming more video content since the advent of the web, so video format ads are generating more engagement.

Nonprofits can leverage these user preferences by disseminating inexpensive, internally produced videos on their social feeds and those of their staff and supporters. Consider experiential or appeal QR codes in postcards and on-site signage; video in social and display advertising; and OTT (Over The Top) media to connected devices for Netflix, Hulu and more. These tightly-targeted streaming ads can be executed at a much lower entry point than traditional DRTV, and their use is rapidly growing — some estimates say more than $93 billion will be spent on OTT media in 2023.

7. Winners never cheat … and if they do, they don’t get away with it

When a ‘macrobrew’ pledged that a portion of its organic beer sales would be spent helping farmers transition their land and go organic, they were cheered as loudly as either team. Enter Twitter. And math. They combined their powers to reveal that the company had spent $5 million on an ad to tell us they’d donate $1 million to farmers … if we spent $450 million buying their beer?

Yeah, it didn’t make sense to anyone else either. They may have had the okayest of intentions, but they found themselves mired in a real-time PR nightmare before the game was even over. Let this serve as an important reminder that nonprofits are held to even higher standards, and virtue-signaling is not a great look. Tell the truth, good and bad, and you will always retain control of the story.

Facts are compelling, so offer tangible proof of donor impact to build trust. Bring your supporters into the huddle by showing vulnerability when appropriate — honesty and transparency draw them closer to your mission. Establishing an annual game plan and incremental goals offers multiple opportunities and touch points across channels to continue the conversation and optimize toward those goals.

Cultivation can help donors stay up to speed on progress and barriers in between appeals, so those appeals perform better. Donors understand that if tackling these complex problems was easy, we wouldn’t need their support in the first place. Ensuring they experience the highs and lows of your game plan helps to galvanize their role in — and commitment to — your mission.

Blog contributors

Scott Bell
Vice President of Client Services
Caroline Steiner
Vice President and Creative Director

Share This Post