You don’t need to be told that fundraising is just a tad more complicated than throwing a “Donate” button up on your charity’s WordPress website and waiting for the cash to roll in.
It’s a painstaking, ongoing process that sometimes seems to consume more resources than it earns (and sometimes actually does). If you’re reading this, you’ve probably tried all the usual-suspect strategies, the ones your mentors told you were time-tested and battle-worn and guaranteed to work better than whatever wizardry those slick consultants were trying to sell at the time.
But those ideas don’t work, or at least not as well as they should. Times are changing, and so are your donors and volunteers. It’s time to adapt or get left (even further) behind.
Here’s what you can do to refresh your organization’s approach to fundraising and donor development.
- Open at Least One Annual Fundraising Event to All Ages
Do this even if your organization primarily serves adults. Having an all-ages fundraising event like this “street festival” gets busy parents with young kids involved — people who might have the means to donate but probably won’t show up to an evening event without kids in tow. Parents have networks, too; an all-ages event might help attract new supporters this way. Anyway, kid-friendly events tend to be more casual, which could help your organization’s image.
- Make It Easier (If Not Effortless) for Supporters to Volunteer
You’ve heard “I want to, but I just don’t have the time” more than you’d care to admit. You’re realistic enough to admit that even if your nonprofit is your first priority, that’s not the case for the vast majority of its supporters, even if they genuinely want to help.
Anything you can do to make volunteering easier, from shorter shifts to “on your own time” activities that align with the organization’s mission, would be welcome. Encourage volunteers to post solo or small-group volunteering efforts on social media with your nonprofit tagged or hashtagged to build awareness (and confirm that they did what they said they would).
- Ask Your Team to Walk the Walk
When it comes to fundraising and donor development, your paid staff should lead by example. Asking them to donate back to the organization that pays them is a bit much, but encouraging them to donate x hours of their time each year is not. Lean into the latest thinking on effective
motivation for nonprofit employees, specifically that they crave a sense of purpose in their work
- Give Rank-and-File Employees Wide Latitude to Plan and Design Fundraising Events
Another employee motivation tactic that seems to work well for nonprofit teams: giving employees and small groups significant autonomy to develop their purpose. Get out of the habit of planning every last event detail yourself and trust that your rank-and-file has the creativity and drive to get it done on time. Ultimately, of course, you’ll judge their work by its results: pledges and revenue.
- Lean on Recurring or “Sustaining” Donation Plans
The recurring revenue model has been a boon for the software and technology services industries for many years. For many nonprofits too. If yours remains behind the time and still relies on core donors to affirmatively opt into another round of giving, it’s time to make a change.
Let your donors choose from monthly, quarterly, or annual donation frequencies. Nudge them toward higher recurring payments, but make the lower tiers accessible (the equivalent of $10 per month or less). And make these plans easier to start than stop, for example by allowing donors to opt in online but requiring that they call to cancel.
Just don’t give donors who want to cancel a runaround or a hard sell to come back. They’ll be less likely to resume giving down the road if you do.
- Make Senior Staff Accessible, and Not Just at Galas
You and the rest of your organization’s senior staff are its public face. You shouldn’t be remote or aloof and certainly shouldn’t act like you’re actively avoiding actual and potential donors.
In fact, you should do something close to the opposite. Make yourself as available as your schedule allows — and clear time in said schedule to make this feasible. Participating in a few virtual town halls or AMAs with supporters each year goes a long way to build trust.
Find Your Fundraising Secret
There are few guarantees in life, let alone in the nonprofit industry. While ahead-of-the-curve nonprofits have employed all of these strategies with success, none are sure to work for yours.
So, for starters, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Try a few different ideas out at the same time or in close succession; they’re all complementary anyway.
More important: Don’t hesitate to experiment with other ideas. You know your organization and its donors and volunteers better than any outsider. If you think something will work for you (or them), by all means give it a go.