As economic fallout continues for nonprofit organizations across our communities, many social service, arts, and community development organizations are being challenged again to develop new ways to raise money in order to effectively deliver on their missions.
The strategies and activities for successful, sustainable fundraising are not a simple pre-mix packet—there is no “just add eggs and oil, mix and bake, and voilà! cake” boxed solution. The amount and scope of work required to develop a more comprehensive fundraising program depends heavily on the existing relationships and perceptions held by—and about— the organization, as well as the mix of existing funding sources, and other prospect audiences.
Another huge factor in fundraising success is time, itself. Routine daily (or weekly, depending on your program) practices are important for the integrity of your fundraising operations, but million-dollar relationships don’t develop overnight, or out of nothing. This is why it’s never too late to start implementing the basics—with care and time, your prospect and donor pools can become robust and active.
In fact, let’s start right now by recognizing that best-practice fundraising strategy assumes we should be cultivating relationships over time. So, whether you’re engaging your audiences in major gift conversations, peer-to-peer platforms, crowdfunding, or events—the more time you have in, the better your results could be… if you’ve been spending that time wisely!
Regardless, though, of your organization’s current or aspirational fundraising pursuits, there are some essential tools and ingredients that you should implement or develop to hasten your success, and help set you up for a more sustainable, diversifiable fundraising program in the future.
CORE STRATEGIC DOCUMENTS, in order.
This is the foundation for your fundraising strategy—don’t cheat the layers. Build something solid. By developing or refreshing these guiding documents, addressed in the order below, you’ll set the stage for a persuasive fundraising case.
1. Mission and Vision Statements. The strength and clarity of your organization’s mission, and how effective you are at fulfilling that mission through your programs and services, is at the root of fundraising success. To win people over as donors and advocates, they have to believe that your work is important, and that it really makes a difference.
Review your mission and vision statements, and make sure they articulate your purpose really well, and in the most people-centered ways possible. Pride and joy in communities are emotions of attachment, which could be compelling in a decision to make a financial gift to your organization.
A strong mission and vision should be at the foundation of your strategic plans and program development, and may even inform your approaches to fundraising.
Oh, speaking of strategic plans…
2. Strategic Plan. A thoughtful, realistic strategic plan informs the organization’s funding priorities, which should be focused on supporting the outcomes that best move the needle on your mission-based work. Whew! The point is, the more direct links between the fundraising case for support (this topic, up next…) and the quality strategy behind your organization’s delivery and outcomes, the better.
3. Case for Support. On top of the strong foundation built by organizing the documents above, the persuasive case for support becomes the base layer of flooring, upon which all the rest of fundraising strategy can be built.
Having defined the most strategic funding priorities for your organization, it’s now time to write a case for support that incorporates research and statistics along with narrative that relates the “hard” stuff to its impact on people’s lives. Be sure to address:
- Defining the need for your work in the community – who do you serve?
Establish your organization’s experience and explain your approach
Describe the programs/services that make a meaningful difference
Tell stories, in emotional terms, about your organization’s work making a difference in people’s lives
VOLUNTEER ADVOCATES, your peer to peer army.
You’ll hear, “the number one reason that people don’t give is that the organization didn’t ask.” There’s truth to this statement, but frequently we do ask, but not in the right way or at the right time. Fundraising calls to action, to be successful, have to occur under the right conditions in the relationship with the prospect, and results will be heavily influenced by the relationship of the solicitor (person asking for a gift) to the prospect (the person, foundation, or corporation being asked for the gift).
There’s a lot more that goes into effective solicitations, but the point here is to emphasize that peer-to-peer fundraising, led by volunteers, is THE MOST effective, at every level. Whether we’re talking prospects for large gifts (that affluent family that lives up on the hill and might make a $20,000 program gift) or $10 donations from each friend of a grade-schooler who decides to “give back” through a social platform appeal, the properly-staff-supported and well-orchestrated volunteer-ask wins out over a staff ask every time.
The bottom line is, having passionate, active volunteer leaders who understand your organization, its programs and impact, and are willing to go out to the community and ask—with the proper training and support you provide them—is key to fundraising success. Small nonprofits, especially, amplify their results exponentially by educating and deploying volunteer advocates to help engage, introduce and successfully ask new prospects for support, on your behalf.
This corps of volunteers should start with your board, but you may have some convincing to do. Many board members reject fundraising activities because they haven’t received enough education or support on the topic. Evaluate who your board (or other most influential) champions may be, and start conversations with them about leadership volunteer investment in the organization. At a minimum, ask every board member to make a personal gift.
Depending on strategies and opportunities for your organization, you may also need to recruit and cultivate different kinds of volunteer fundraising leaders, across different peer groups. Whatever your project, regardless of your ask, you’re always better off with a volunteer army to deploy.
A FLOWING PIPELINE OF PROSPECTS, even if it starts with a trickle.
While your central fundraising strategy may very well (and with good reason) be focused on larger sponsorships, major donations from wealthy individuals or families, and grants, if you’re cultivating an individual giving program, you need new prospects constantly entering your pool.
While established annual giving programs can eventually become a significant revenue source, the underlying value is the program’s role as a vetting stage and space for identifying people with great financial capacity and an affinity for your work—those who may become prospects for larger funding partnerships down the road.
Additionally, annual giving pipelines may lead to opportunities for planned giving—that is, when someone names your organization in their estate plans, and you eventually become the recipient of a building or other property that can be of value to your organization, or even bequest funds directly.
Start with the audiences you already have, of course, and look for sources through which you can expand your lists. It’s great, early on, to develop “acquisition” lists from wherever they’re ethically available to you. You may already have a newsletter subscriber list or mailing lists of other sorts. Identify as many sources as you can, and be sure to make it easy for new folks to opt-in (and opt-out) of your communications.
But once you have some initial prospect data sources, it’s not enough to collect all that information in Excel anymore. You need to manage data and administrative tasks using the proper tools for the modern nonprofit, which leads us to our next essential tool…
A DYNAMIC, INTEGRATED CRM.
All those prospects, and all that information you’ve collected from those sources? They’re only of any value if you can get and keep them organized! List management is the behemoth never-ending task, in general, but for folks using it for fundraising functions, it’s exponentially important.
First off, small nonprofits don’t have the human resources to keep to old-school methods of Excel spreadsheets and MS Word mail merge functions. It’s time consuming to have to export and upload new communications lists all the time, into various platforms, like the ones you use to push email or newsletter communications, process donation transactions, or keep demographic and relationship data.
The good news is that today’s CRMs offer fully-integrated applications, making it SO much easier to keep an eye on your data maintenance while seamlessly segmenting audiences, customizing communications, and offering dynamic updates to record “interactions.” Additionally, platforms now help organizations manage A/B testing capabilities, peer-to-peer campaigns, crowdfunding, social media integrations and much, much more. (A couple that have grabbed my attention lately are Flipcause and Salsa. Also, Salesforce offers a limited, free product for nonprofits you might want to check out.)
True, platforms like this will probably cost you a couple to a few thousand dollars each year—but when you consider that it’s the central hub tool that can make your administration of a fundraising (including gift entry, reporting, and reconciliation) relationship tracking AND your communications programs so much easier, it’s well worth the investment.
DEFINED AUDIENCES: know them, love them.
A firm understanding of your primary audiences is absolutely crucial to effectively crafting fundraising strategies that will be successful. You can’t possibly tell the most effective fundraising stories if you don’t know whom you’re addressing.
Identify your top few primary audience segments. For instance, do you want or need to address “local small business owners,” “corporate giving representatives,” “drive-region families with kids who live within 600 miles,” or “the general public” in your town or county? Do you work with sub-groups of allied professionals? Do you have active volunteer groups, giving societies, or regular participants in a much-loved event?
For each primary audience, identify who they are, what message they need to hear from you, and why that information (in the message) is important to them. In general, understand the demographics of your audiences, but also their position with relation to your organization. Knowing as much as you can about your typical audience member’s profile will help you customize a more effective strategy, and more meaningful messaging, likely to evoke response to your call to action.
ORGANIZED, ROUTINE FUNDRAISING TACTICS, and persistent, devoted human resources.
Putting all these strategies and research and planning aside, fundraising is only effective when it’s tended regularly. It simply doesn’t work well—and often becomes a liability—if it’s only intermittently active in the daily or weekly productivity of the organization.
Fundraising requires regular attention to developing pipelines and major gift portfolios, to plotting strategic moves in order to advance relationships with donor prospects over time. Fundraising tactics are the basic, simple to-do items we like to ignore and are easy to shove aside when disasters—real or constructed—pop up to provide desired distraction. Much of fundraising is simply making the call, having a conversation, testing the readiness of donors… then, preparing proposals, educating, following up. The day-to-day is not earth-shattering work, but when you land that first major gift from a new prospect, you’ll be in position to move mountains in support of those you serve.
Ultimately, by establishing routine fundraising tasks as a fundamental part of your normal work, being certain to use your CRM and its activity-tracking data tools to the best of their capacity, and holding staff and volunteers accountable for the tasks to which they agreed (or shifting the responsibilities when something isn’t getting the attention it needs!) you can get your fundraising engine running, and keep it running. But it’s a human-powered machine, and no amount of automated emailing and social media videos will take the place of thoughtful attention and dedicated resources.
EVOLVE INTO BETTER FUNDRAISING, take those baby steps when you can.
Regardless of the strategy that’s right for your organization, these fundamental tools and ingredients will help set you up for success. If you’re just exploring new opportunities now, that’s okay—investments in developing these areas of focus will only help expand your opportunities further, faster.
At the end of the day, fundraising is about attracting philanthropic investment to your work—so having solid, thoughtful strategies that align directly with your mission work, packaging it well for your audiences, and implementing routine tactics and organizational tool use (software) to properly support the activity is important. But so is involving more representative people (the people are the “anthro” part of “philanthropy”), and telling stories about your organization’s achievements that cultivate a sincere appreciation (dare we even say love?) for the work and its outcomes. Together as a set, these tools and ingredients can be the keys to investing in your long term fundraising success.