Let’s face it. Times couldn’t be tougher for many nonprofits, especially when it comes to raising money. And in the nonprofit world, things often run in inverse proportion: The tougher the economy, the greater the need…and the scarcer the resources. So what can you do to beat the odds and secure the necessary funding to run your programs?
Let’s try a little exercise. Grab a piece of paper and write down 5 creative ideas for raising a significant amount of money for your organization. Now, take a look at the list. What do the 5 items have in common? If you are like most people, your list is mostly populated by event ideas. I bet that half of you wrote down a golf tournament!
First of all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with events. Events, such as golf tournaments, can indeed be successful exercises that raise your organization’s profile, as well as some money. But events are costly, both in terms of overhead and labor. Large events can take months to plan, scores of volunteers to pull off…and may or may not end up netting much money. Nothing like having 6 months of planning go down the drain when it rains on the big day! If you want to see big improvements in your fundraising ability, you simply must learn to think differently. Think relational instead of transactional.
Consider how much time and effort went into your last major event. Now, imagine that same effort strategically targeted toward cultivating a lifetime donor…a fan who loves and supports your mission over the long term. This single concept, so often ignored, can make the difference between surviving from event to event and having a steady stream of program-sustaining money coming into your nonprofit. Nothing will net rewards with your donors like relationship building.
But how do you do it? Here are some key principles you can leverage in building these relationships:
Track all donations. By tracking, I mean know who gave what, when. That’s where it starts. Frankly, that is your minimum threshold anyway when it comes to recordkeeping and proper acknowledgement of donations.
Thank your donors. Sincerely, creatively…and often. Every time they give they should be getting a “thank you” letter letting them know how much their gift is appreciated and what it helps your organization accomplish. You simply cannot slack on this one. Studies have shown that donors who are thanked are much more likely to give in the future. Another tip is to give thanks in the manner the gift was received. For example, if you got a check by mail, it is best to mail a thank you letter. If the donation was made online, it is entirely appropriate to acknowledge that donation by like means. And, don’t send the same letter each time. Change it up.
Focus on your big donors. Who are your biggest donors? Hopefully you know this already, but maybe you don’t. If not, find out. How often do they give? Once a year…quarterly…annually? Is it in response to targeted solicitations or general fund requests? Once you know these things, then your goal is to find out why they are giving. You cannot assume this. Truth be told, you are likely to assume incorrectly anyway. My Dad’s favorite quote is, “Assumption is the lowest form of knowledge”. How true! Spend real time building relationship with these individuals. Find out what motivates their giving. Take the time to forge real bonds with these people. You will be amazed how far this can go.
Make fans of everyone else. You do that by communicating often. Start a newsletter. Let your supporters know what is happening with your organization…your successes, your plans, your needs. Just be careful how you communicate need. People much prefer to give to vision, not bills. Explain what their giving can help you achieve with regard to your mission. Don’t tell them you need support so you can afford rent. Message is everything.
Using your time and energy to build relationships will go much farther in the long run to help you establish a stable support base. Once you have done this, then you are in a much better position to return your attention to events and other transactional fundraising efforts.
With acknowledgments to fundraising consultant (and our good friend), Sandy Rees, who teaches these concepts at our Nonprofit Boot Camps.