Nonprofits can spend thousands of dollars doing big mailings and raking in new donors. I get appeal letters regularly from nonprofits I've never heard of and have no intention of giving to. Such large investments can bring in 2 to 3% of the audience you mail to, which makes this strategy not cost effective for small or medium sized organizations. So, how does a small nonprofit find new donors to add to their ranks? There are a few sure-fire ways to beef up your base of support.
5) Crowdfunding and peer-to-peer giving. Everybody's doing it. You should to. More and more donors - especially women - don't just bring their cash to the table when they become a donor. They bring their entire network with them. Give them an opportunity to become more deeply engaged in your work by asking the small and mid-level donors on your list to become fundraisers on your behalf. Get them involved in a crowdfunding or peer-to-peer giving campaign. Crowdfunding means that you put together your own donate page on a crowdfunding site like gofundme or kickstarter. Peer-to-peer funding means that you recruit several fundraisers who set goals to fundraise on your behalf. For example, during most #GivingTuesday campaigns, I ask 10 - 20 people to fundraise for my organization. They set up their own fundraising pages through our website and they send around requests for funding to their friends and family as they try to reach their goal. This is peer-to-peer fundraising. Facebook birthday fundraisers are all peer-to-peer fundraisers. Set up and experiment with some crowdfundraising and peer-to-peer fundraisers for your organization, and hopefully you will bring in a few new names to support your work.
4) Small cultivation events. Small circle dinners hosted by your Board members or donors are a big win for growing your support. Your host supplies the food and wine. You help fill the room with a good mix of current donors. They invite friends, colleagues, family and neighbors. I grew an organization's base of support by 75% in one year this way!
3) Partner for Growth. It's time to partner up. Find a corporate supporter in your community and think of exciting ways to partner with them. The Humane Society partners with local pet stores to bring puppies up for adoption out to the stores. That's how I got my dog and became a supporter of the Humane Society. I once worked with a major national jewelry store to sell bracelets that benefited my non-profit with every sale (also known as cause marketing). There are lots of inventive ways to partner. Get creative, and then reach out to businesses and other nonprofits that you know are supportive of your work. You never know what can come of it!
2) Conduct regular list building activities. Table at conferences and festivals. Conduct local giveaways and raffles. Collect emails and names like you mean business! Conduct regular list building activities. New followers on social media and new listserve subscribers are a heartbeat away from being new donors.
1) Last, but never least, the best strategy to increase your donor base is to ENGAGE AND RETAIN YOUR CURRENT DONORS. Seriously. If you want new donors, you need to take care of the ones you have. Make sure you have a robust donor retention and engagement plan. Make sure you're engaging your donors regularly, without asking for money, and communicating impact. That's how word gets around about you being a fantastic nonprofit. Donors who are engaged will host parties for you. They'll sign-up to fundraise for you. They'll tell their friends and neighbors about you, connect you to other potential funders and donors and bend over backwards for you. IF they believe in your cause and they know, without a doubt, that their contribution to your organization makes a difference. So make sure that keeping the donors that you have is your number one strategy for getting in new donors.
Every fundraiser, at one point or another, has dreaded picking up the phone to call a donor. Or hesitated to make the ask during a meeting. Let's face it, our culture does not make asking for money easy. If you're fundraising in Europe or Australia, it's ten times harder. Donors outside the U.S. are used to government services providing for many of the services that non-profits are forced to tackle in the states. Even so, asking for cash even in America is taboo, uncomfortable, undesirable. And yet, we must!
If we want our organizations to succeed, we have to ask for money and we have to ask for it ALL THE TIME. So getting your money mindset in order is crucial. You have to get over the fears and discomfort of asking for money and embrace the all out success that comes with overcoming this particular cultural obstacle.
Here's how you can mentally prepare yourself to ask, and get, big $$:
1. Take out a pen and paper, or pull up a new document to write in. Now, envision going to your biggest donor, sitting down with them and asking them to double their gift. What thoughts pop into your head? Write them all down. They'll say no and never donate again. They'll laugh at me. They'll make that pained expression when you've asked a donor for too much - I hate that expression. Write all of the thoughts down. It's important to face your fears about asking for money. Now go through each fear and write down the worst possible outcome for each situation. They'll say no and never donate again and my boss will fire me and I'll be unemployed and eventually homeless. Now, read that again. Is that likely to happen? No. And even if you did get fired for loosing a donor, that's not the type of organization you really want to be working for anyway! You'll get another job, probably a better job with better pay and benefits and you'll move on. So, now that we've worked through all of the worst case scenarios and discovered that they are ridiculous, unlikely and irrational, get back to doing your kicka** job of raising cold hard cash!
2. Write a letter to money. Our culture touts money as the route of all evil, but how do you really feel about money? Do you hate it? Do you hate needing it? I once had an Executive Director tell me that they hated selling the mission of their racial justice organization to rich white people and begging them for cash. That's fair. Write down all of your feelings and beliefs about money. Once you've got everything out on paper, write money a second letter - a love letter. Tell money why you love it. What does it do for you? What does it do for your organization? Money is a resource, like water, air or trees. We have to use it wisely. All good things come from money. Your house, your food, the clean water you drink - everything. Money is the root of all good things. Write them all down in your love note. Now, which letter made you feel better? Want to supercharge your money mindset? Write money a little love note everyday when you sit down at your desk. Even if it's only a sentence. Dear Money - I love you. You keep a roof over my head and my car running. Today, I want to raise enough money so we can hire a new assistant for our overworked Executive Director. I know that you can do that for me, money. It would make such a positive difference for our organization! Thanks so much for showing up today, money. Love, Me. Watch more money flow into your organization than ever before.
3. Surround your work space with pictures of all the great things you're fundraising for. A picture of the new space your organization could rent with more money. A map of all the states your national organization could expand to with more funds. Pictures of all the colleagues you like and enjoy that could get a raise if your development department (or you) exceeds your goals this year. A picture of what you're going to buy for yourself if you exceed your fundraising goal this year ;-) Having strong visuals to remind you of your end goal is super helpful for fundraising, because in the end, it's not really about the money - it's what you can do with it that matters!
You want to increase your fundraising results for your non-profit? Don't know where to start? Easy. Start where you are.
What I mean by that is, analyze where you are. Know your key numbers. How many of your donors were new donors last year? How many were renewals? How many donors do you have overall?
By answering some of these key metrics, you can start drawing conclusions about your current donor base and where you need to put your energy into expanding. If all your donors are friends of your Executive Director, you need to focus your energy on finding new donors. If all your donors last year were new donors, but your renewal rate was low (national average is 40%), then you need to focus on engaging your current donor base and wooing lapsed donors.
Start working from where you are, and let your current strengths and opportunities guide your decisions. In fundraising it's easy to think that you need to focus on everything, especially when you're running a small to medium sized organization or fundraising shop. But you realistically can't. You have to prioritize. Pick one or two goals for long-term growth and stick to them.
And when you have to choose between focusing on the donors that you have or acquiring new donors, always, always, always choose the donors that you have over anything and anyone else. The people that already believe in you and your mission are always more valuable than the woman who your ED ran into at a conference. If you already have a solid donor engagement and renewal process, then congratulations! You can move onto donor acquisition. But if you're like most fundraisers and non-profits, donor engagement is where its at!