In the latter half of the 20th century fundraising was simpler. Nonprofit postage was a few cents, printing was relatively inexpensive, and potential donor names could be rented easily at low cost. In the 21st century, fundraising is more challenging. But it’s not impossible.
Strong fundraising programs generally have three characteristics. This is not a definitive list, but it’s a great place to start when you are wondering how to strengthen your fundraising efforts.
Fundraising is multi-channel
Social media is inexpensive, and it belongs in a fundraising program. But it isn’t enough for fundraising efforts that want to support growing nonprofits. A wise fundraiser looks at numerous options and chooses multiple ones to incorporate. It’s like a stool: it’s hard to balance on just one leg. But as you add more “legs,” staying balanced is easier. Direct mail, major donor fundraising, special events and foundation support are just a few things that can be strong income providers for an organization when done well.
Fundraising is frequent
One of the first things I have my students learn is, “I am not the target audience.” It doesn’t matter if you like it, or even if your board chair likes it. What matters is what works for donors. That means “talking” to your donors frequently, and telling them what you are accomplishing and what your needs are. Fundraising is all about relationships; you wouldn’t limit your conversation with someone you care about to only once or twice a year, and you shouldn’t talk to donors who care about your nonprofit (and who you should care about, too) only occasionally, either.
Fundraising is transparent
Long gone are the days when our fundraising message is, “Trust me! We deserve your money.” Donors are viewing their giving as an investment, and they expect a return. You show this by reporting back to your donors, demonstrating that you did with their money what you said you would do. This means photos, stories, endorsements from people outside your organization, and of course, a timely receipt for their gifts. If donors feel you are hiding things from them, they will find another organization to support.
It is in the best interest of your nonprofit to invest time and money to report back in a way that is most appreciated by your donors. Don’t expect them to search your website to find out what you did with their gifts. Be proactive, and build lasting relationships with your supporters.
Fundraising is hard work; there are more than one million nonprofits in the United States, all competing for limited philanthropic dollars. The organizations that have enough funding to fulfill their missions will be the ones that consider their donors partners, not ATM machines. Let’s put some romance back into fundraising and build relationships with our donors.
Originally published in the UCLA Extension Newsletter.