3 Ideas to Improve (Almost) Any Fundraising Activity

A few days ago, I attended a fundraising event. Frankly, it was very enjoyable — an interesting, unique way to spend an evening. Food, good conversation, a clear presentation of the offer …

And yet, it was about as far away from the typical fundraising event I have been to as it could be. And that was good — because it worked.

There were three specific things I observed at the event that I believe can help almost any fundraising effort — whether online, in the mail or in person.

First, the audience was selected specifically for this event. It wasn’t “one size fits all.” The venue was smaller and not centrally located — on purpose. The donors invited were those who were giving at a high level and prospects for more significant gifts who lived in the vicinity of the event’s location. No one had to contemplate driving halfway across town at rush hour to attend a large event where they may feel almost anonymous. Rather, they stopped off for dinner with friends and a unique program on their way home from work.

For direct mail, e-appeals and events, we often throw too much energy into one big thing — and hope if we cast the net far enough, we’ll get the results we need. While that’s more efficient in many cases, the smaller, more intimate event can allow more one-on-one interaction (or at least copy that feels like it’s directed to the recipient, not the world in general). Sure, this isn’t always practical, but it’s worth considering if communicating more specifically to many smaller segments — even with just a few paragraphs, a headline or a photo — will ultimately provide a better return on investment.

Secondly, the theme fit the event and the audience, and frankly, it was fun. No, we can’t always have fun with our causes, especially when we are dealing with life-and-death issues. But busy people have to select from many options of where to use their time, and reading an email or letter or attending an event has to be more appealing than every other competing option.

The event I attended wasn’t something for which I basically could have written the program before I even got there. It was surprising and out of the ordinary — but it didn’t neglect a solid ask (and rationale for giving), pledge cards and people who worked the crowd. How predictable are your events, letters and emails? Have they become “OK to miss” choices for donors simply because they feel too predictable? Think about ways to make your fundraising more unexpected, and maybe some donors will start paying attention again.

Finally, the staff on the nonprofit did a great job relying on outside support. In fact, when I met the development team, I was surprised to see no one panicking about the napkins or looking like he or she was desperately in need of a good night’s sleep. Instead, everyone was relaxed, greeting guests (and taking time to visit with them), and simply enjoying the opportunity to give their supporters a memorable evening while they raised support.

Too often, we (and this is very inward-focused, too) can’t let go. “Anything you do, I can make better” is our mantra. So even though we pay someone else (or use qualified volunteers) to write the copy, do the design or manage the event, we have to run behind and “fix” things. Ask yourself — is this because you can’t let go, or is it because you have relied on the wrong people to get the job done? If it’s the latter, you owe it to your organization (and yourself) to invite someone else to take over. Outside help can be the greatest thing in the world when it’s the right person or persons. When it’s not, don’t tolerate — change.

This old dog has been to many events over the years, but few left me feeling as good as this one — about the investment of my time, and most importantly, about the organization and why it deserves support. Ask yourself if your fundraising letter, newsletter, e-appeal or event will leave your donors feeling that same way. How will they answer these questions: Was this worth reading/attending? Do I feel better about the cause than I did before reading/attending this? How do they want me to respond after reading/attending this, and is that how I want to respond?

Don’t we own our donors at least that much?

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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