If you have ever heard me talk about messaging, you have likely heard me advise you to embrace and leverage existing opportunities. From tying your programs and services to current events and the news cycle to building toward mission-aligned observances. This isn’t a new idea, I didn’t create it; rather it is a tried-and-true tool for building awareness.
However, I don’t recall talking about tying personal donor engagement to observances…until now.
Knowing that “observance” may be interpreted differently from one person to the next, let me start with a basic definition. For the purposes of this post, we will consider an observance as, “respectful attention to a specific date to draw attention to (observe) the subject of the respectful attention.” (Yes, I made that up.)
There are thousands of observances: there are year-long observances, month-long, week-long, and those lasting a day. They have specific dates, January 3rd – 10th, or January 25th; and some are more fluid, “the second Monday of January,” or “the first full week of January.” There are apps and websites dedicated to keeping up with all these observances. And there is a lady who holds the world’s record for getting the most observances recognized.
No matter the cause, program, or concept, there is likely an observance (or five) you can tie to it, to help build awareness for your specific purpose and to help provide the basis for another relevant donor contact. [Tip: Be sure to research the observance before you go too far. Not all observances are what they sound like, and some already have strong ties to an organization.]
The purpose of this post is not to provide a step-by-step guide, but to help you see the opportunities available on the calendar for donor engagement and cultivation. Below I’m going to list just a few examples. They likely won’t all fit your situation, but I hope you see there are ways to tie the long and ever-growing list of observances to your mission and provide a meaningful impetus for donor engagement. The following list is just from January observances:
- National Soup Month. Invite a selected group of donors to come down, have a bowl of soup and tour your programs. This could be one big group on a specific day (not the best option in my opinion), small(er) groups each Wednesday, a donor a day, or anything in between. Bonus: start now and get participants of your program(s) to make/paint the bowls and give the bowls to donors as they leave. Be sure to include the participant’s or another’s success story.
- National Meat Week (begins the last Sunday of January). Invite a donor and his/her family to help pack food boxes. Or invite a donor and their family to a partner restaurant (who gave you the meal at greatly reduced or no cost) to have a meat-laden meal with someone in your program. Tie an ask to the amount of food (meat) you’d be able to purchase and families you could feed with their gift of $X. Note: As donor fatigue takes on new meaning, the ability to engage the full family becomes increasingly important.
- World Kiwanis Week (Third week in January). Send a letter of congratulations to each Kiwanis club in your community. If possible, share how your mission has benefited from Kiwanians (individuals or clubs). Don’t forget about the various youth groups/clubs the Kiwanis sponsors; the most recognized is the Key Club, but there are several. Bonus: If you have an engaged Kiwanian (giving time or treasure), this is a great opportunity to spotlight a donor, and don’t forget to utilize social media for the Kiwanis call outs.
- National Carnation Day (January 29). Stop by your donor and deliver a (one) carnation with a thank you note and a bit of information about National Carnation Day. You may also be able to tie carnation colors to some aspect of a program or service.
- A Room Of One’s Own Day (January 25). You can invite a donor to tour a shelter, tie an ask to education/empowerment programs, or the basis of a program success story.
- And there doesn’t seem to be an organization or mission out there that couldn’t leverage National Pie Day (1/23), National Chocolate Cake Day (1/27), or National Belly Laugh Day (1/24).
Keep in mind that you can use observances as positive or negative drivers. For example, “Our shelter cooks are hard at work baking chocolate cake today. Just because you don’t have a home to call your own, doesn’t mean you should not be able to celebrate National Chocolate Cake Day.” Or, “As you celebrate National Chocolate Cake Day, we are hard at work to end childhood diabetes. We dream of a day when everyone can celebrate.”
The last thought for this post is that if you know a bit about your donor, you can leverage observances that don’t even relate to your organization. If there is an observance that would be meaningful to your donor, use that. If your donor or prospect is a fan of spicy food, then January 16 would be a good day to contact them because it is International Hot & Spicy Food Day. Perhaps take along your favorite hot sauce.
The point is if you are looking for a way to start or build a relationship with your donor or potential donor, befriend the calendar. If you are looking for a way to build small fundraising events, befriend the calendar. If you are looking for ways to get around those gate-keepers, befriend the calendar.
It may mean waiting until next month or maybe even six months, but if it gives you the valid, meaningful, donor-focused reason you need to make the call or ask, then it is worth it. And remember, you can leverage an observance to engage just one donor, a small group of donors, an entire segment, or your full file.
Not every observance is for every donor or organization, but there is a long list of options, and the list continues to grow. Find one (or 25) and start engaging your donor.