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Guide for fundraisers: 5 practical fundraising ideas backed by research.

By Husain Sumra|Friday July 30, 2021

Without a successful fundraising plan, nonprofit organizations may struggle to deliver on their core mission to make the world a better place. This guide for fundraisers will help you update your fundraising strategy and goals and put the plan into effect.

Review your nonprofit fundraising strategy and goals.

Before launching a fundraising campaign, it is helpful to review the fundamentals. Go back to the organization’s mission statement for inspiration.

For example, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s mission statement includes protecting and managing the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.” Further, the nonprofit has a specific goal to “Protect an additional 100,000 acres of A.T. lands in three years.” This land goal can inform how much money the organization needs to raise.

Alternatively, you might use last year’s fundraising amount as a baseline. If you raised $1 million last year, then you might decide to raise $1.1 million this year to account for increased expenses like higher supplier costs. Before finalizing the goal, discuss it with the leadership of the nonprofit organization as they may have a different goal in mind.

Before you move on, answer the following questions:

  • What is the organization’s mission statement?
  • What are the organization’s top priorities for this year?
  • What is the financial goal of this year’s fundraising campaign? 

Now that you understand your fundraising campaign objective, let’s take a look at the factors that motivate donors.

Understanding donor motivations: what the research says.

Research has found some patterns in donor motivation. The following insights come from the 2018 U.S. Trust® Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, which contacted more than 1,600 households to understand donors.

  • Donors expect to be acknowledged. The study found that 57% of donors would like to receive a thank-you note, and 86% want their donations acknowledged with a tax receipt.
  • Communication missteps may cause donors to stop giving. The study found that receiving too many solicitations is the number one reason donors stop giving. Other reasons include believing the organization requested an inappropriate donation amount or did not communicate the effectiveness of donations received.  
  • Donors expect efficient management. Sound financial management matters to donors. The 2018 study found that 91% of donors expect organizations to “demonstrate sound business and operational practices,” and 90% expect organizations to “spend only a reasonable amount on general administrative and fundraising expenses.” (A 2018 study from Grey Matter Research found that “The average donor considers 19% spent on overhead to be a reasonable limit.”) If your nonprofit has high expenses, be prepared to explain those expenses and answer questions from donors.

Keep this research in mind as you create emails, social media posts, letters and other aspects of your nonprofit fundraising campaign.

Nonprofit fundraising ideas to reach your goals.

Now that you know your mission, fundraising campaign goal, and donor motivations, you can choose a mix of fundraising ideas.

  1. Run a virtual fundraising event.

There are proven ways to run a virtual fundraising event. For example, you can use online tools like Facebook Live. The Sacramento Kings used this tool to raise money for the American Red Cross in 2017. The event featured a performance by rapper Lil Jon during half time. During the performance, donors had the option to donate to the organization. Featuring a special performance by a musician gives donors a good reason to attend the virtual event.

For more insight on virtual fundraising ideas and technologies, check out our post: Virtual Fundraiser for Your Nonprofit: 4 Digital Ways To Raise Money This Month.

  1. Create a donor recognition program and benefits.

Offering recognition and benefits to donors is a practice used by some nonprofit organizations to show appreciation. For example, New York University has six “university-wide giving societies” aimed at different types of donors. The Young Alumni Leadership Circle appeals to recent graduates who donate at least $250, while the Loyal Parents group appeals to students’ parents who donate $5,000 or more. In addition, NYU offers practical benefits to donors such as invitations to an “Alumni & Parents Weekend” event and the VIP Parents Reception.

The Art Institute of Chicago shows another way to demonstrate appreciation to donors. The Institute’s corporate partner program includes “Annual Corporate Partner Day with free admission” and “10% discount on new memberships for employees.” For a culture oriented nonprofit organization, offering discounts and free admission like the Art Institute of Chicago is a practical way to appeal to donors.

However, keep in mind that some donors may not be interested in public recognition. One study of thousands of donors to more than 30 charities found that approximately 5% of donors wished to remain anonymous. Therefore, it is wise to give donors options on how they want to be acknowledged (e.g., a private email or phone call, public recognition, or a video conference call.)

  1. Run a workplace fundraising campaign.

Some nonprofit organizations partner with businesses to raise money. For example, United Way of Greater Mercer County has a workplace giving program where employees of participating companies can donate money. United Way of Greater Mercer County notes that  “In many cases, the donations from employees are pre-tax pay, and many companies match their employees’ donations.” Participating employers include Bank of America, Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson and Lowes.

If this type of fundraising campaign interests you, take note of the specific techniques that United Way uses. 

United Way of the Midlands suggests the following virtual activities create awareness for a fundraising campaign:

  • Baby photos contest. Invite employees to submit photos of themselves as babies. Once the photos are in, ask people to match photos to each person. Whoever makes the most successful matches can earn a prize.
  • Dress-up day. Instead of the traditional dress-down day, let employees make a donation and show their best clothes. It’s a way for employees to show off their wardrobe and fashion sense for a good cause.
  • Mentorship auction. Consider auctioning a coffee meeting with one of the company’s leaders or C-level executives. People are often willing to make significant donations to meet with a famous business person. Fast Company reports that charitable donations to have lunch with investor Warren Buffet have raised millions of dollars.
  1. Encourage donors to use matching gift programs.

Reach out to your major donors to see if they’ll commit to matching every dollar that is donated up to an agreed upon amount.  Philanthropy Works found that “simply announcing that a match is available increases the revenue per solicitation.”

Some employers will match donations made by their employees. Salesforce offers “up to USD $5,000 in matching gifts annually” for employee donations.   Salesforce states that they have “given more than $240 million in grants” in total.

Consider updating fundraising campaign messages and emails to see if donors work for a company that offers a charitable matching gift program. It never hurts to ask.

  1. Plan for the long term with a planned gift campaign.

Nonprofit organizations can also use long-term fundraising methods to meet their goals. Planned gifts, commonly implemented through wills and estate planning, can raise substantial amounts of money. According to a 2018 report by the Giving USA Foundation, more than 30 billion dollars in bequest contributions were made from 2014-2018.

To pursue a planned gifts campaign, it is helpful to understand a few trends. According to Giving USA, “The average age donors wrote their first will was 44 years old.” Adopt a long-term perspective when speaking with donors about planned gifts and estate planning. For example, you might start discussing planned gifts with donors in their 40s and 50s with the understanding that those conversations may take a long time to translate into a will-based donation. Some donors may be ready to update their will right away while others may take more time to think about it.

It is helpful to focus such a campaign on donors with a long history of giving to the organization. Giving USA also found that more than half of donors who made a charitable donation through their wills had been donors for more than 20 years. 

Nonprofit fundraising: Choose your mix of campaign ideas and get started.

As you plan your fundraising strategy, take all of these options into account. There’s no need to rely on a single strategy. Take note of the examples raised here, such as running a virtual event on Facebook or planning for long-term donations through a planned gifts campaign.

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