In most organizations, donors are not homogenous. Sure, they may all be alumni of the same university or residents of the same community. But how they choose to spend their time differs, as does what their donor “love language” is. Events, email, visits, direct mail, phone calls, filling out surveys, listening to a recorded podcast—you name it and there’s a donor somewhere who prefers that form of communication.
How many legs are on your stool?
While most nonprofits have to draw the line somewhere when it comes to methods of communication with donors and would-be supporters, achieving a minimum amount of balance is essential. If you’ve ever had the experience of sitting on a one-legged stool, you know that the least little thing can send you sprawling because keeping your balance is tough.
But when you add a couple more legs, you can handle the bumps that come along. And so it is with fundraising. Relying on multiple fundraising “products” gives your income—and thus, your program funding—more stability. So how do you select your product mix?
Who is donating to your nonprofit organization today? Yes, investing in the next generation is important. But raising money today is essential or your organization may not be there for that next generation. What are your current donors responding to? What means of acquiring new donors are not only acquiring donors, but bring in donors who give again … and again?
If you’re looking to achieve balance but have a limited budget, you know you can’t do it all. So instead, focus on a mix of fundraising products that cover the largest portion of your demographics. In other words, if you can only do three things and you have three distinct demographic groups, make sure one fundraising product is aligned with the preferences of each group.
What do you have that can add power to your fundraising efforts? Great stories? Great photos? A terrific public communicator? A fantastic venue for an event? While you can work around what’s missing by using stock photos or renting space, for example, building on your existing strengths can make launching additional fundraising products easier (and therefore more likely to actually happen).
On the other hand, consider what your weak link is and try to program away from that. If your website is tragically out-of-date, you probably don’t want to keep driving your donors to it. Instead, can you create and maintain a current, photo-filledFacebook page? If your leader doesn’t do well making small talk in one-on-one settings, you can avoid creating those awkward situations as you plan your events.
The key thing to remember is to not set yourself up for failure. Work with what you and your organization have, and create your own unique fundraising product mix. There is no one-size-fits-all, so don’t be hung up on what’s missing; instead, maximize what you have in abundance.
Think money—income and expense
When working with a limited budget, it’s tempting to begin by asking, “What’s the cheapest thing we can do?” Yes, living within a budget is important, but ultimately, it’s net income that matters. How much more do you truly believe you will raise if you invest that extra expense?
Ultimately, your fundraising mix should be what is going to net the most money today while building the strongest donor base for tomorrow. If you only invest in major donors, you won’t be cultivating the next generation of major donors who may be disguised today as direct mail or monthly pledge donors. On the other hand, if you are only focusing your investment on “the donors of tomorrow,” you’ll likely lack resources to carry out programs today. If you cut out acquisition because it isn’t cost-effective, you’ll pay for that decision for years to come when your donor file dwindles because of attrition.
This old dog knows how easy it is to execute the fundraising program we enjoy and argue against the ones that we really don’t like. But as I’ve said before, you are not the target audience. It doesn’t matter if you like it or would read/listen to/click on it. Will your key donor groups respond? Will it bring in new donors that continue to give? Can you sustain it over time? In the end, it’s not about doing the latest and greatest; it’s about raising money and a committed cadre of donors that will enable your organization to fulfill its mission.
Originally published in Nonprofit Pro.