I recently read a blog post on how to raise money for small nonprofits and I was so disappointed.
This article listed a bunch of one-off activities that required mobilizing large numbers of people and a lot of coordination. It listed things like raffles and crowd funding, which require the ability to reach and engage large amounts of people, both in terms of network and time. My response – those might be “quick” ways to raise money, but they don’t help the organization in the long-run.
I see so many small nonprofits “live paycheque to paycheque” – they are always looking for where the next dollar will come from and try “quick fix” fundraising just to keep the doors open.
The donors who give to these fundraising initiatives are likely not to continue giving, because their gift is transactional – they are likely giving to support a friend who asked them or in exchange for something.
For small nonprofits to stabilize their finances and thrive they need to find and keep donors for the long-term.
So, here are my three alternative ways to find and build loyal donors. They don’t require a large network and don’t cost a thing.
Your existing donors
Someone who has already given to your organization is the best and most cost-effective source of future donations. The trick is to build relationships with your existing donors in a meaningful way. This means communicating with them between asks and if you can, get to know them one-on-one through meetings. Simple things like a monthly impact story (forget a newsletter – that’s too much work) emailed to your donors will go a long way in keeping them connected to your work. The more personal the better.
You may want to personally ask some of your past donors to give again, or you can ask through something like an e-appeal or direct mail letter. The time and investment you make in maintaining relationships will pay off.
If you want to take this strategy up a notch, try asking your existing donors to give monthly. Monthly donors are much more likely to continue giving and give more over their life-time commitment to your organization. Just make sure you follow up with people whose monthly gifts don’t get processed if their credit card changes or it doesn’t go through for some reason.
I see so many organizations hesitate to ask their volunteers for donations, because they feel like they already ask/give enough.
Last week I sat down with Julie, who runs a non-profit magazine called Shameless. She and her entire team produce this magazine as volunteers. There are no paid staff. Period. I asked Julie if she herself donated to support their work and she answered “of course – I give as much as I can”. I asked her why, and she talked about how important she felt the work was, that she could afford to give a little and that she loved it. She felt great giving money on top of her many hours of volunteer time.”
Your volunteers care deeply about your work and are usually happy to support it financially at a level that is comfortable for them.
Your donors friends/networks
Your donors likely have friends who would be interested in the work of your organization. People give because they care about your work. Their values and beliefs that lead to caring are likely shared with their friends and family, making those people great prospective donors.
I love to ask donors to invite out friends to learn more about an organization. Host a small and inexpensive event (intimate is great so you can meet everyone there) asking your donors to bring a guest who might be interested in supporting your work. Make the event meaningful to your mission. Don’t just have speakers, make it interactive and allow people to engage with your core work. Sometimes that’s something really hands on or other times it’s having a client speak. Creativity is your friend.
You can ask people in the room to donate or send a follow up inviting them to give.
The foundation to success with these strategies is relationships
I’m a big believer that a stable and loyal community of donors is the best way to achieve financial sustainability and fund future growth for small nonprofits.
For any fundraising initiatives to work for the long-term, you also need to invest (time mostly) in maintaining relationships and reporting on impact. Don’t only communicate with your donors when you need money - get to know them and have them get to know you.
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