6 Habits to Supercharge Your Next Fundraiser: Learning from the Great Canadian Giving Challenge

June 13, 2022

Some charities may have sent targeted email blasts to excite their donor base, while others may have updated their website with Great Canadian Giving Challenge branding with the hopes of earning more entries in the $20,000* draw.

Whatever the approach, everything charities do throughout the Giving Challenge will help them build the habits necessary to become better fundraisers today and beyond.

Below we’ll walk you through six impactful habits charities have implemented in their Giving Challenge fundraisers and how you can implement these habits in your future campaigns!

  • Set objectives to define the purpose of the campaign
  • Create a work-back schedule to help ensure smooth and precise execution of tasks
  • Regularly monitor the performance of communications to refine messaging and boost email engagement
  • Keep track of donors who participated in your campaign to pull insights and tailor your donor stewardship practices
  • Standardize cadence to streamline the planning process for your next campaign
  • Iterate to ensure meeting the changing needs of your donors.

1. Set Objectives

Start by setting objectives.

An objective is measurable and specifies a timeline.

  • By measurable, we mean that there’s a numerical target to meet.
  • And a timeline is the amount of time you have to meet the target.

Let’s apply this to the Giving Challenge. If your goal is to win the $20,000* prize, your objective will likely be related to earning more donations or acquiring new donors. Thus, your objective might be to acquire 100 new donors by the end of the Giving Challenge.

Either way, this is a valid objective because:

  • Your measurable objective is quantifiable; you want to acquire 50 or 100 new donors.
  • You have until the end of the Giving Challenge to achieve this objective.

Looking toward the future, the objectives you set depend on the type of campaign you’re running, it doesn’t always have to be about acquiring new donors! Charities that participated in the CanadaHelps Make It Monthly program, for example, set objectives to acquire a specific number of returning and new monthly donors.

Making a habit of setting objectives early will also help guide charities to develop tactics and strategies that are relevant and aligned with the objective. Returning to the Giving Challenge angle, if your objective is to acquire 100 new donors, you shouldn’t be sending email blasts primarily about volunteering opportunities. In short, before planning and executing any action, charities should ask themselves, “Does this action help us achieve our objectives?”

If you’re not meeting your objectives, identify the positives and iterate based on the working tactics. And anytime you meet or exceed the targets set out in your objectives, make sure to celebrate loud and proud!

2. Create a work-back schedule

I’m sure you’ve heard of Murphy’s Law - the adage, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Charities that can’t or don’t plan know how true this is. Whether your mistake is as small as a spelling error or as problematic as an incorrectly issued tax receipt, you unnecessarily risk disappointing your donors and potentially throwing valuable relationships down the drain.

Your best defense to prevent this? Plan ahead with a work-back schedule.

A work-back schedule is the timeline of a project. For the Giving Challenge specifically, the project would be your fundraising campaign.

Using a work-back schedule, charities should assign due dates to specific phases and parts of a task ahead of time to individual team members.

Bringing back the Giving Challenge example, a charity could divide their fundraising campaign into three phases:

  • Pre-Giving Challenge: Excite and get donors ready ahead of the campaign.
  • During-Giving Challenge: Keep your charity top of mind during the campaign.
  • Post-Giving Challenge: Thank your supporters and donors.

Here’s an example of a hypothetical Post-Giving Challenge work-back schedule.

Phase Tasks Sub-Tasks
Task Deadline Sub-Task Deadline
Post-Giving Challenge Thank you email to donors July 6 Start June 27
Draft By June 29
Reviewed By July 4
Send on July 6
Thank you email to non-donors July 7 Start June 28
Draft By Jun 30
Reviewed By July 5
Send on July 7
Post-Giving Challenge blog post July 12 Start June 30
Draft By July 6
Reviewed By July 8
Send on July 12

It’s ok if you can’t get the timing right for tasks and sub-tasks immediately. It’s more important to start habitually building a work-back schedule before every campaign. 

We get the desire to perfect things the first time. But perfectionism slows down productivity and doesn’t guarantee results. Drawing your attention back to the Sub-Tasks heading in the table above, some might say that one draft isn’t enough for the Post-Giving Challenge blog. Thus, rather than building the work-back schedule, they may dwell on the question, “how many drafts is enough?” for far too long. Is one draft enough to produce a quality result? But at three or more drafts, do we reach the point of diminishing returns?

But the truth is, you won’t know until you try.

So get creative, be brave, and start experimenting to find a timeline that works for you!

3. Regularly monitor the performance of the communications

Newsletter? Subscribed.

Emails? Opened.

Links? Clicked.

We all wish our supporters consistently did all of the above. However, the reality is that not all of your emails and content will resonate with your audiences. And that's okay! Every action and non-action tells us something valuable (just another reason to focus on doing rather than perfecting!).

Thus, charities should regularly monitor the performance of their communications. Using software like the CanadaHelps DMS, charities can quickly view how their supporters engage with their emails, such as open email rates, click-through rates, and subscription opt-outs. The caveat is that charities should wait at least a day or two to give subscribers enough time to read the email.

Common Results Potential Insights Insight-Driven Changes
Lower open rate:
Subscribers are not opening the email.
The subject line in the email is too long, vague or doesn’t draw attention to the reader. Experiment with subject lines that resonate with your readers. Some ways to do this are to connect with the reader emotionally or instil a sense of urgency.
Lower click-through rate:
Subscribers are not clicking a link or call-to-action in the email.
The content isn't compelling enough. Segment your subscribers and send targeted content to increase the likelihood that the reader will click a call-to-action.
Higher unsubscribe rate:
Readers are unsubscribing from your emails.
Higher bounce rate:
Emails that could not be delivered to subscribers’ inboxes.
Your email list is out-of-date. Pull a report of all the email addresses

If charities notice that some of their Giving Challenge emails have a lower open rate than others, this is a great opportunity to revisit the subject lines in your emails. Instead of going with a typical promotional subject such as, “Help us win $20,000*,” charities could catch the reader’s attention by creating a sense of urgency. Consider there are only two weeks left in the Giving Challenge, for example; lean into that! Your subject line could then read, “Just two weeks left to make a $20,000* difference in your community!”

You can also look back at their well-performing emails to identify what might have worked in the past. When reviewing previously sent emails, keep an eye out for messaging slant, email length, use of images, and email formatting. All of these are low-hanging fruit which can be implemented rather quickly. 

Charities should build a habit of analyzing the performance of their emails at least once a week. The faster you can flag things like low open rates and low click-through rates, the better equipped you are to pivot and refocus your communications as needed.

4. Keep track of donors who participated in your campaign

In addition to monitoring the performance of your communications, another effective way to understand more about your donors is by tracking participation. Here charities should track how much donors give, giving frequency, and specific causes they support.

For example, charities may create a segmented list of first-time Giving Challenge donors. This is a massive opportunity to send targeted emails to share more details about the Giving Challenge and how your charity used the Giving Challenge funds from previous years. Validate that they’ve made the right decision to give to your organization by sharing inspiring stories of how the funds helped others in need.

Examples of Segments Description Why Segment
Returning Donor Donors who have more than one donation within a set period of time. Identify returning donors to send targeted communications to convert them into monthly donors.
Major Donor Donors who have contributed significant money to your charity. Identify major donors so you can go above-and-beyond when you show your appreciation to them.
Lapsed Donor Donors who have not made a donation within a set period of time. Identify lapsed donors to send targeted communications with the objective of reengaging them.

In the table above, you’ll notice there are plenty of other ways charities can start segmenting donors based on their behaviours and preferences. Segmenting gives charities the flexibility to build better donor relationships through personalized communications and content. 

Get into a habit of tracking donors at the end of every campaign. The insights gathered at the end of a campaign ultimately dictate the objectives for the next campaign.

5. Standardize cadence

Eventually, charities want to be in a place where planning communications or a campaign isn’t such a rigorous and manual process. Standardizing cadence is a great way to streamline how and when charities deliver emails and content to their supporters.

Knowing that the Great Canadian Giving Challenge happens annually every June, charities can create and implement a standardized Giving Challenge work-back schedule. That way, they don’t need to go through the process of planning a campaign from beginning to end every June. 

For example, this Giving Challenge work-back schedule may include three standardized email tasks. First is an email blast to excite donors about the Giving Challenge two weeks before the start of the campaign. The second is an email to share the fundraising progress in the second week of the Giving Challenge. And the third is a thank you email to supporters sent after the Giving Challenge ends. Then, charities can save and reuse these timelines for next year’s Giving Challenge.

Charities can also standardize cadence for communications that don’t necessarily belong to a specific campaign. Thank you letters, for example, should be sent soon after a donation is made to delight the donor. Charities could set a goal of delivering a thank you email within 48 of a donation to help ensure thank you letters are going out promptly. Charities using software such as the CanadaHelps Donor Management System can simplify this process even further thanks to pre-built email templates that are easy to customize and even easier to send to all your donors or segmented lists.

Having a predefined structure ahead of time will help charities free up their time to focus on other elements of their campaign.

6. Iterate & Improve

Did you meet the objectives that you set out to achieve?

Whether you answered yes or no, charities should get into the habit of continually testing and iterating their fundraising tactics and strategies.

Because if you answered yes, is there anything else you could do to help improve results?

And if you answered no, what blockers prevented you from achieving your objective?

Going back to the very beginning of the blog, suppose you met your Giving Challenge objective of acquiring 100 net new donors and want to know how to build upon this. In that case, you could iterate and improve by:

  • Updating the messaging or configuration of your online custom donation form.
  • Identifying which causes or funds your donors are interested in the most and building new content around those themes.
  • Segmenting your donors to personalize communications.

Of course, we all aim to meet the objectives we set out. But remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. How you iterate depends on the objectives you’re trying to achieve. And only through iteration can charities begin to narrow down to learn about what strategies and tactics work best for your organization.

Even if you’re only building one or two habits listed above, the important thing is that you’re trying. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results either - that’s why these are called habits and not quick fixes! 

And after reading all six habits above, charities with a keen eye may have noticed that understanding donor interests, behaviours, and preferences are central to forming these fundraising habits. And the more organized your donor data is, the easier it is to pull these donor insights. Click here to learn how you can organize your donor’s data right now in three simple steps!


*Donations must be made via canadahelps.org. Minimum $3 donation required. Contest runs from June 1, 2022 at midnight Newfoundland Daylight Time (NDT) to June 30, 2022 at 11:59:59 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (PDT). See full rules at: www.canadahelps.org/en/givingchallenge-rules.

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